Eat the Exotics: vine honeysuckle

There were mean dogs near the vine honeysuckle, so I grabbed an order To-Go.

Honeysuckle vine is invasive. It’s an undisputed thug. It forms dense canopies that smother, shade, strangle, and poison our native habitat. It’s a top-tier offender at local Weed Wrangles.

I love it.

I love the scent. Especially at dusk when cool air trickles through the yard and floats the fragrance with it.
I love the taste. To pull a bloom and lick the nectar is to lick the spring.

the little green blip is the stigma, which will be your nectar spoon

Stupid bush honeysuckle is different. No sweet bead of nectar. Stupid bushes bloom for weeks and weeks, and they, with Chinese privet, are the biggest, baddest thugs by far.

But vine honeysuckle blooms only for a short time. Sometimes only a week. To miss it is to miss an elemental, essential marker of late spring.

May 1 is my family’s target date to start looking, if cool evening breezes have not already floated it to our attention.

see the opposite branching? Our native honeysuckle does the same thing

Blooms are yellow and white. The yellows are older and sweeter. It’s as if the color change signals to pollinators: Hurry and eat me, before it’s too late.

Every bloom makes fruit, and every fruit makes 2-3 seeds, so every bloom eaten by humans means fewer seeds to be dispersed into our watershed.

It is our Native Habitat Duty to rip and lick as many honeysuckle flowers as possible.

You know how to rip and lick, right? How to extract the one, pure bead?
I’ve taught my husband, my kids, my mother-in-law, and on public hikes, I’ve shown fellow walkers of all ages.

1) Pull a bloom free.
2) Pinch the little green end just enough to sever the tube but not the string inside.
3) Pull the string (the “style” of the flower) out of the corolla tube, and while you pull, the stigma will scrape one bead of nectar out through the hole you just made.
4) Lick bead of nectar.
5) Repeat with fresh bloom.

the only one in the family with fingernails clean enough to show

Bucketfuls of blooms can be converted into honeysuckle jelly.
I’ve never had bucketfuls, but fistfuls are enough to make a honeysuckle tea:

honeysuckle tea, chilled

I can’t say I hope you find the vine nearby, because then I’d be hoping you have an invasive pest.
But IF you do have it, now’s the time to eat it.

And if mean dogs bark at you from behind the hedge, you can grab an order To-Go.

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The real terms:
Exotic vine honeysuckle = Lonicera japonica
Exotic bush honeysuckle = Lonicera mackkii
Native, Fabulous, Go-Buy-One vine honeysuckle = Lonicera sempervirens (see below)

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Here’s a good info sheet about the vine: identification, history, lore, and exactly what it does to our native habitats. (Ignore the bit at the end about poisons. There is always a bit at the end about poisons, have you noticed? Whenever you look up a plant or animal, an expert happily tells you how to kill it.)

Here’s the Tennessee Invasive Plant Council’s list of invasives. You’ll see the vine as a red-alert, Established Threat, along with the stupid bush and Chinese privet. If you see anything on the list for sale at your local nursery, please show the list to the manager?

And, here’s a lovely NATIVE honeysuckle we should ALL have: Coral honeysuckle /  Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Perfect on a mailbox, in a barrel, on the porch, in a border. It blooms for months, hummingbirds love the nectar, and is host plant for the absolutely adorable hummingbird moth with absolutely adorable name of Snowberry Clearwing (which I wrote about here).

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More fun stuff:

Honeysuckle tea recipe (The View From Great Island).

Japanese Honeysuckle: Why There Are Two Flower Colors, at The Infinite Spider.

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About the author:

My Instagram posts are 100% nature, and most of it the Sidewalk kind.
No shots of my teacup unless there is a plant or animal floating in it.

I’m not fond of facebook, but some people are on it who aren’t on Instagram, so I post nature things there from time to time.

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevityFourth GenreHippocampusThe HopperFlyway, The CommonCity CreaturesThe Fourth River and other journals.
Her current project is a book of linked essays called Paradise in a Parking Lot.