Horrible, Wonderful Honeysuckle

May 7, 2010 | By | Comments (8)

Forgive me, but I’m terribly conflicted. I just walked by a plant that I love to see and smell in spring and hate to see anytime else. Japanese honeysuckle.

Honeysuckle 002

This rampant vine has probably engendered more fond childhood memories than any other plant. Remember when the sudden surprise of honeysuckle fragrance told you that spring was here? Remember pinching off the end of the flower, pulling the thread-like pistil through, and being rewarded with a drop of sweet nectar? No kid ever said anything bad about honeysuckle.

But kids grow up and then they see the real damage honeysuckle does. First sold in this country in 1823, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) found the Southeast very much to its liking. It quickly escaped cultivation and spread into woods and countryside. It has blanketed our landscapes ever since. Growing fast as a Gulf oil slick, it coils around trunks, branches, fence posts, sleeping Congressmen, and anything else within reach. It smothers plants below it and strangles trees and bushes it climbs. Today, it’s not uncommon to see whole woods entangled in honeysuckle vines. Hope there’s some Congressmen in there.

Trumpet-shaped and sporting long, spidery stamens, the showy flowers emerge white and then turn yellow with age. I’ve always thought that flowers turned yellow to show they’d been pollinated, but I don’t know that it’s true.

Honeysuckle 004

Because it is such a noxious weed, you’d probably think nurseries wouldn’t sell Japanese honeysuckle.You’d be wrong. I just looked in a plant catalog and found four varieties for sale, including a variegated one and a purple-leafed one. All of these varieties are just as roguish as the species. As I do not wish to contribute to planetary decline, I’m not telling which nursery it is.

You can kill this vine by spraying it according to label directions with Roundup, but you have to be careful not to spray any plant you don’t want to kill. One way to get around this is to cut the top off a gallon milk jug, and fill it with Roundup mixed according to directions. Then scrunch as many of the stems and leaves into a ball as you can without tearing them from the plant and plunge them into the milk jug. Leave them there for a week. The plant will slowly absorb the chemical and die.

But do the sentimental Grump a favor. Don’t dispatch honeysuckle while it’s blooming. It’s our childhood’s smell of spring.


Sweet and Safe Magnolia

Southern magolia

If you love the scent of honeysuckle blooms, then magnolia blooms are for you. The perfume is wonderful and the tree is well-behaved. To learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about growing this classic Southern tree, click here.


  1. » Can Soaps Be Used for Love Spells Kitty Soaps

    […] centuries and used as incense to attract prosperity in a household. Many people believe that the smell of honeysuckle sweetens a person’s thoughts therefore making them attracted to you. The flower of the honeysuckle […]

    November 5, 2014 at 6:54 am
  2. Dave

    It’s bittersweet isn’t it? Great smell – awful behavior. Too bad the native doesn’t have the fragrance.

    May 10, 2010 at 3:18 pm
  3. Henry H.

    Steve if you don’t like looking at this could I interest you in a beautiful Virginia Creeper??? Believe it or not I actually have one and three gallons for sale!!!!

    May 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm
  4. tom tall clover farm

    I love this vine, mainly because it’s low on the list of deer-eating fodder. And here in the Pacific NW the vine is on the tamer side.

    May 10, 2010 at 11:46 am
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    Ursula, you have my word that the next time we update the SL Garden Book, “screaming buttweed” will be offered as an alternate common name.

    May 9, 2010 at 11:06 am
  6. Jean

    Nothing smells sweeter than honeysuckle on a warm evening. Of course you must be careful while smelling that it is not climbing around your leg or your favorite pet. Grump, lets send a few pots to DC! The woods around here are full of it and it is cheap! Say the word and I will start digging.

    May 9, 2010 at 7:21 am
  7. Pam/Digging

    I have fond childhood memories of honeysuckle also. I’ve never planted it, although I HAVE planted its non-fragrant but well-behaved relative, coral honeysuckle, in the garden.
    This spring, however, invasive honeysuckle has popped up at the base of my deck in two places, unbidden, and I don’t have the heart to dig it out or use Round-up on it right now because it smells so heavenly. I know I should but…maybe in the fall.

    May 8, 2010 at 11:08 pm
  8. UrsulaV

    Oh god, I hate it with a pure hate. I’m on 2.5 semi-wooded acres, about half of which was wall-to-wall honeysuckle, and I have only just carved out a foothold. (And if I fail to defend it vigilantly, that foothold will be gone in six months.)
    I have this pet theory that the problem with so many noxious weeds is that they have such lovely names. “Honeysuckle.” “Tree-of-heaven.” What’s not to love? Of course we should plant it!
    Unfortunately, my solution–renaming Japanese honeysuckle “screaming buttweed”–seems unlikely to gain widespread traction.

    May 8, 2010 at 9:24 pm

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