Honeysuckles have virtue

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Believe it or not, there are people who can dislike a plant with so sweet a name as "honeysuckle." Not that every honeysuckle should be loved.

Hall's honeysuckle is one honeysuckle that has given honeysuckles a bad name. After being introduced into this country from Asia a hundred or so years ago, Hall's honeysuckle found the soils and climate here much -- too much -- to its liking. It now strikes off on its own to try to take over the landscape, sometimes quite effectively, by billowing over the ground and engulfing trees.

But let's look at the good side of this plant: the white flowers are borne in profusion and they are intensely fragrant. For more pizazz, there is a variety with variegated leaves, and one with purple leaves and flowers.

Tartarian honeysuckle is another honeysuckle native to Asia that has escaped from cultivation here. This one's a large shrub with soft, green leaves and fragrant flowers that are pink on some bushes, creamy white on others. As you can see, even the "bad" honeysuckles have some endearing qualities. A lopping shears maintains peaceful coexistence with this honeysuckle.

One of the most welcome honeysuckles, in all respects, is the so-called winter honeysuckle, which blossoms very early with a very strong fragrance, lemony in this case. The flowers are not all that showy but they do perfume the air in spring for weeks on end.

Another gem among honeysuckles is trumpet honeysuckle. Like Japanese honeysuckle, this one's a vine, but not invasive. You won't smell any sweet fragrance coming from trumpet honeysuckle's flowers, but that lack is more than offset by the large, orange-red trumpets, yellowish on the inside that appear over for weeks during summer. If you prefer yellow flowers, plant the variety Sulphurea; for scarlet ones, plant Superba.

The list of wholly virtuous honeysuckle could go on and on. European fly honeysuckle sports creamy white flowers and downy leaves. Belle honeysuckle has fragrant white or red flowers; those of Zabel's honeysuckle are intensely pink.

One common thread that runs though these honeysuckles is that they all are easy to grow. No need to spray honeysuckles, and most can even go years without pruning unless planted in a formal setting.

Most honeysuckles also are easy to propagate, after which they transplant readily to begin vigorous growth. The only problem with Hall's honeysuckle is that it has taken these last named qualities to excess.

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