Fly Honeysuckle: My Earliest-Blooming Native Shrub

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, What's up/blooming
8 comments

It still surprises me every time I see this shrub blooming. The bloodroots are waning and the trout lilies are gearing up. At best, the forest trees have tiny pinpricks of yellow, green, or red along their branches, a hint of the leaves to come. It’s early spring. But as I walk down the path to the creek, fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) is leafed out and shyly blooming.

It looks like it’s struggling to survive.

Unlike its invasive non-native cousins, fly honeysuckle never seems very vigorous. In the few reference books where I find it listed, this shrub is always described as scraggly or scrawny. I used to think the ones I found in my woods were struggling to survive, but maybe that’s just the way they are.

All shrub honeysuckles–including the invasive ones–have opposite leaves and paired berries, but there is an easy way to figure out if it’s fly honeysuckle.

fly honeysuckle ciliate foliage

The leaves have little hairs along the edges. If you can’t see them, click on the photo to enlarge it.

Another clue is that the alien honeysuckles are just starting to leaf out and are nowhere near flowering yet.

Fly honeysuckle likes cool forests, especially near stream banks and ledges. And no, I don’t know why it’s called fly honeysuckle. According to the WildSeed Project, clearwing moths and mellitophilous bees visit the flowers. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center credits hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees with visiting the flowers. No one mentions flies.

A lot of different birds love the berries, according to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Ruffed Grouse, American Robin, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Cardinal, Purple Finch, Goldfinch, White-throated Sparrow, Mockingbird and others.

fly honeysuckle flowers

The flowers are delicately tinged with lilac and open a few at a time.

There’s not a lot of them on any one shrub, and their subtle beauty is easily overlooked.

There’s nothing about this shrub that knocks your socks off, and yet, every time I come across it I feel like I’ve discovered a treasure. It’s a humble plant, dismissed by reference works and field guides, but perhaps its modest nature is what appeals to me.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Debbie Hall May 4, 2019, 10:16 am

Interesting article, excellent writing skills!

Diane O'Connell April 27, 2019, 5:12 pm

Hi – I came across your site thinking it must be UK based, so I was surprised to see that you were across the pond! I am sure we have similar climates so I look forward to reading more. Your photos are very inspiring, I am within easy reach of many forests and woods in the centre of England.

marie April 27, 2019, 2:50 pm

Wow! You are so lucky — nothing here blooming yet, up high in the chilly Southern Tier of NYS. Bloodroot is starting to emerge, so others should be coming soon.

Kathy Purdy April 27, 2019, 4:22 pm

I also consider myself in the Southern Tier (Chenango County), so you must be in one of the coldest spots in our area, if you’re even behind me. Yes, once you see the bloodroot, others follow in quick succession.

Frank April 27, 2019, 6:17 am

You’re fortunate to have a woods to wander in and come across these surprises. I believe I would have just passed this by, and I know I’d have never noticed those fascinating little hairs on the leaves!

Kathy Purdy April 27, 2019, 4:20 pm

I didn’t notice the hairs, either. I read about them in several sources and when I zoomed in on my photos, there they were!

commonweeder April 26, 2019, 4:25 pm

It is such an interesting plant. I am also fascinated by your enlargement technique!

Kathy Purdy April 26, 2019, 5:21 pm

The enlargement technique is built into WordPress. Glad you liked my plant profile.