|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula)|
After five years of drought, plants are blooming at unusual times. That’s because precipitation and temperature cues - used by plants to time flowering, leafing out and growing - are all mixed up. The long-term effects of climate change are largely unknown, but they are already making garden planning a little more challenging. Our Plant of the Month is mostly a June bloomer. But if you watered a bit this summer – or if we’ve had recent rains – a Pink honeysuckle may put out a few fall blooms, as the weather cools down.
Western Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) is a true honeysuckle. The majority of Lonicera species are native to China. Most are twining climbers or arching shrubs that produce lovely, characteristic flowers. While widely planted, the non-native honeysuckles can be rampantly invasive. Species like the Japanese, Amur and Coral honeysuckles are on ‘don’t plant’ lists in Australia and California for good reason!
|Native honeysuckles can be groundcovers. This is the Southern|
Honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata)
California gardeners are often surprised to learn there are native honeysuckles. Of about 20 N. American species, seven are native to California.  Four grow only in the foothills of Central and Northern California. But three are native to Los Angeles County: Lonicera hispidula (Pink honeysuckle); Lonicera interrupta (Chaparral honeysuckle); and Lonicera subspicata (Southern honeysuckle). In fact, the range of the Pink honeysuckle extends from San Diego County through N. California to Oregon. 
Pink honeysuckle was collected in Los Angeles County by Anstruther Davidson in 1893, though earlier collections were made in Northern California.  The earliest LA County collections were from Catalina and San Clemente Islands, where this species still grows. It also can be found in Malibu Canyon, in the Santa Monica Mountain Range, and in the San Gabriels. This is primarily a species of the foothills, growing in canyons, dry hillsides and stream banks, in local woodland and chaparral communities below 3000 ft. (1000 m.) elevation.
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) - a sprawling vine|
Pink honeysuckle is a climbing or twining vine (technically a liana; a woody vine that climbs up or through trees to get to the light). The stems are herbaceous at the tips, becoming woody with age. Lonicera hispidula is more robust than Lonicera subspicata (Southern honeysuckle), the other local species we’ve grown in gardens.
That being said, Pink honeysuckle is not a ‘garden thug’ like some of its non-native cousins. With water, it grows fairly quickly to 8-10 ft. in length; a very large specimen might reach 15+ feet long. The branches are not as long as those of the Southern Honeysuckle, which can reach 20 ft. or more. The stems are hairy (another common name is ‘Hairy honeysuckle’) and have shorter side branches. The branches can easily be pruned or trained before they get too woody. The plant is said to live only 15-20 years or so, but our experience is too short to comment on this.
The local native honeysuckles do not really twine; nor do they have hold-fasts (like ivy) or tendrils (like grapes). They are actually sprawlers; if not given support (or a convenient tree or shrub to grow through) they function as ground covers. In fact, they make a nice low, woody groundcover under trees.
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): foliage|
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): purple foliage|
of late summer
The leaves of Lonicera hispidula are fairly typical for the Honeysuckles: simple, opposite and oval or oblong. The leaves are hairy like the stems; those of spring and summer are medium to darker green. The leaves become purple-tinged with summer-fall drought and may be winter deciduous in colder areas. The purple leaves are unusual and attractive. In lowland gardens of Western Los Angeles County, the plant is mostly evergreen.
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): flowers & buds|
The flowers of this species are exquisite; the plant draws comments whenever it’s in bloom. If your garden favors the pinks and purples, this may be just the climber for you. The flowers grow in paired clusters along slender flowering stalks arising from the leaf axils. The color ranges from pastel lavender to bright pink, with a white throat. A mature, flowering plant is a sight to behold!
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): close-up of flowers|
The flowers are modified to suit their primary pollinators – the hummingbirds. The corolla consists of a floral tube of fused petals that terminate in two lips. The lips are rolled back, away from the sexual organs (see above). Both male (stamens) and female (style) parts extend well beyond the petals. The female stigma is green-yellow and the anthers (pollen producing part of stamens) are orange with yellow pollen.
The flowers have a sweet scent, which attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. The nectar, produced at the bottom of the floral tube, is also very sweet. Children of all ages love to pick the flowers and suck the nectar from the tube. These plants aren’t called ‘honeysuckles’ for nothing!
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): ripe fruits|
The fruits are small (to perhaps ½ inch) berries. They start green and become a lovely translucent red when ripe. Like most parts of the plant, the fruits are sticky (this plant has many secretory glands). In addition to being decorative, the berries are edible. They are quite tart – best used with plenty of sweetener or preserved as a flavoring (see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/08/california-gourmet-preserving-summer.html). If you don’t eat the fruits, the birds will gladly do so.
Pink honeysuckle thrives in most local soils, including clays, but probably not in very alkaline soils (pH > 8.5). No need to amend your soil in any way – just plant and water until established. Like many local vines, it does best with a little afternoon shade or dappled sun. But you could grow it in full sun (with water) or more shade (it just won’t flower as well).
In our experience, Lonicera hispidula takes 2-3 years to become fully established. After that, the plant is very drought tolerant, needing only occasional summer water (or none at all in shadier locations). It also tolerates more frequent water – 2 to 3 times a month – to keep the leaves green.
In Mother Nature’s Backyard, our honeysuckles may get watered 2-3 times from June through October. Like all local natives, Pink Honeysuckle does need adequate winter-spring rains. Don’t hesitate to supplement winter rains in a dry winter. This plant can even take some standing water for a short time.
In our experience, Lonicera hispidula is fairly pest-free. However, it is an alternate host for Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death), a fungus-like pathogen affecting woody plants, including the Coast Liveoak. For more on this emerging plant pathogen see references 4-6, below.
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): growing on|
open fence, Mother Nature's Backyard
Pink honeysuckle is most often used as a climber/vine. It needs support, whether a convenient shrub, trellis, arbor or open-work fence (see above). You can either weave new growth between the supports, or tie the branches (we use strips of old nylon stockings for this purpose). Honeysuckles can also be espaliered along a wall or fence, with the appropriate supports.
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) needs support|
Pink honeysuckle is a wonderful plant for growing over arches and arbors. The flowers and scent are heavenly on a warm spring/summer day. It reminds one of grandmother’s garden. And of course you can sit and enjoy the pollinators and the birds that eat the fruits.
We also like to let Honeysuckles grow along the ground as groundcovers. We sometimes allow them to grow amongst native grasses, sedges, Yarrow, wild strawberries, Woodmints and other natives as a mixed groundcover under trees. This is truly Mother Nature’s own groundcover – like something you’d see out in the wilds. Lonicera hispidula would also work well on a bank, to stabilize the soil.
|Mixed groundcover includes Honeysuckle, Yarrow, |
To our knowledge, Pink honeysuckle was not used in traditional Native California medicine. The Asian honeysuckles, however, are widely used as medicinals. The hollow stems of Pink honeysuckle were used as pipestems. And the ashes of this plant were used for black tattoo color.
In summary, Pink honeysuckle is a great native alternative to the invasive non-native honeysuckles. It can be used as a climber or groundcover – equally well. The flowers and fruits are attractive and edible (you can make a delicate tea from the flowers). The plants attract hummingbirds, long-tongued butterflies and fruit eating birds. We love the native honeysuckles. We only wish that we saw them in more local gardens!
|Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) on fence (foreground).|
Mother Nature's Backyard, Gardena CA
For a gardening information sheet see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/lonicera-hispidula
For more pictures of this plant see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/lonicera-hispidula-web-show
For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html
- Calflora - http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/specieslist.cgi?where-genus=Lonicera
- Jepson e-flora - http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=31505
- Consortium of California Herbaria – http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_consort.pl?taxon_name=Lonicera hispidula
We welcome your comments (below). You can also send your questions to: email@example.com