Sweet Wild Honeysuckle or Woodbine – Flowers

(Lonicera Caprifolium) Honeysuckle family

(L. grata of Gray)

Flowers—White within, the tube pinkish, soon fading yellow, 1 to 1 1/2 in. long, very fragrant ; borne in terminal whorls seated in the united pair of upper leaves. Calyx small, 5-toothed ; corolla slender, tubular, 2-lipped ; upper lip 4-lobed ; Iower lip narrow, curved downward ; 5 stamens and 1 style far protruding. Stem: Climbing high, smooth. Leaves : Upper pairs united around the stem into an oval disk or shallow cup ; lower leaves opposite, but not united ; oval, entire. Fruit: Red berries, clustered.

Preferred Habitat—Thickets, wayside hedges, rocky woodlands.

Flowering Season—May—June.

Distribution—New England and Michigan to the Southern States.

” Escaped from cultivation and naturalized.” How does it happen that this vine, a native of Europe, is now so common in the Eastern United States as to be called the American woodbine ? Had Columbus been a botanist and wandered about our continent in search of flowers, he would have found very few that were familiar to him at home, except such as were common both to Europe and Asia also. Where the Aleutian Islands jut far out into the Pacific, and the strongest of ocean currents flows our way, must once have been a substantial highroad for beasts, birds, and vegetables, if not for men as well ; but in the wide, briny Atlantic no European seed could live long enough to germinate after drifting across to our shores, if, indeed, it ever reached here. Once the American colonies came to be peopled with homesick Europeans, who sent home for everything portable they had loved there, enormous numbers of trees, shrubs, plants, and seeds were respectably carried across in ships ; the seeds of others stole a passage, as they do this day, among the hay used in packing. This was the chance for expansion they had been waiting for for ages. While many cultivated species found it practically impossible to escape from the vigilance of gardeners here, others, with a better plan for disseminating seed, quickly ran wild. Now some of the commonest plants we have are of European origin. This honeysuckle, by bearing red berries to attract migrating birds in autumn, soon escaped the confines of gardens. Its undigested seeds, dropped in the woodland far from the parent vine, germinated quite as readily as in Europe, and pursued in peace their natural mode of existence, until here too we now have banks

The Hairy Honeysuckle, or Rough Woodbine (L. hirsuta), with a more northerly and westerly range, bears clusters of flowers that are yellow on the outside, and orange within the tube, the terminal clusters slightly elevated above a united pair of dull green leaves that are softly hairy underneath. The slender flower-tube is sticky outside to protect it from pilfering ants, and the hairs at the base of the stamens serve to hide the nectar from unbidden guests. Berries, bright orange. Flowering season, June —July.

The deliciously fragrant Chinese or Japanese Honeysuckle (L. Japonica), as commonly grown on garden trellises and fences here as the morning-glory, has freely escaped from cultivation from New York southward to West Virginia and North Carolina. Everyone must be familiar with the pairs of slender, tubular, two-lipped, white or pinkish flowers, quickly turning yellow, which are borne in the leaf axils along the sprays. The smooth, dark green, opposite leaves, pale beneath, cling almost the entire year through. The stem, in winding, follows the course taken by the hands of a clock. Were the berries red instead of black, they would, doubtless, have attracted more birds to disperse their seeds, and the vine would have travelled as fast in its wild state as the Italian honeysuckle has done. It blooms from June to August, and sparingly again in autumn.

When daylight begins to fade, these long, slender-tubed buds expand to welcome their chosen benefactors, the sphinx moths, wooing them with fragrance so especially strong and sweet at this time that, long after dark, guests may be guided from afar by it alone, and entertaining them with copious draughts of deeply hidden nectar, which their long tongues alone may drain. Poised above the blossoms, they sip without pause of their whir-ring wings, and it is not strange that many people mistake them in the half light for humming-birds. Indeed, they are often called hummingbird moths. Darting away suddenly and swift as thought, they have also earned the name of hawk moths. Because the caterpillars have a curious trick of raising the fore part of their bodies and remaining motionless so long (like an Egyptian sphinx), the commoner name seems most appropriate. A sphinx moth at rest curls up its exceedingly long tongue like a watch-spring: in action only the hummingbird can penetrate to such depths; hence that honeysuckle which prefers to woo the tiny bird, whose decided preference is for red, is the trumpet or coral honeysuckle; whereas the other twiners developed deep, tubular flowers that are white or yellow, so that the moths may see them in the dark, when red blossoms are engulfed in the prevailing blackness. Moreover, the latter bloom at a season when the crepuscular and nocturnal moths are most abundant. Rough, rounded pollen grains, carried on the hairs and scales on the under side of the moth’s body from his head to his abdomen, including antennae, tongue, legs, and wings, cannot but be rubbed off on the protruding sticky stigma of the next honeysuckle tube entered; hence cross-fertilization is regularly effected by moths alone. The next day such interlopers as bees, flies, butterflies, and even the outwitted humming-bird, may take whatever nectar or pollen remains. If the previous evening has been calm and fine, they will find little or none; but if the night has been wild and stormy, keeping the moths under cover, the tubes will brim with sweets. After fertilization the corolla turns yellow to let visitors know the mutual benefit association has gone out of business.