Lonicera xylosteum, European Fly Honeysuckle- Pehaps the name of this honeysuckle arrived because the flowers are very tiny- maybe the size of a fly? Found throughout northern Europe and Asia, this species has attractive dark green leaves, and grows 5-6 ft. tall. It has an extremely dense growth habit, grey-green to blue-green leaves, and very insignificant, tiny yellow flowers followed by red berries. It is extraordinarily hardy and one of the first shrubs to leaf out in spring. It has long been used for hedging and is highly adaptable. It requires practically nothing, and it does not self seed or send out suckers. ‘Emerald Mound’ is a particularly good selection of it, growing 3 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. This was once a popular shrub on the prairies, but now is little seen.
Somewhere along the way, someone wondered what would happen if we took this species and crossed it with the Tatarian honeysuckle (L. tatarica). The resulting hybrid (Lonicera x xylosteoides) has been done a few times and the results have been sometimes excellent and sometimes not so much.
‘Mini-Globe’ was introduced by the Morden Research Station in Manitoba and grows 3 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. It rarely flowers and makes an excellent and almost zero maintenance hedge.
‘Clavey’s Dwarf’ is quite large (up to 5 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide) and produces very small golden flowers that are mostly unnoticed, and makes for a very dense, ball-shaped foundation shrub. Both are long lived and have no pest or disease issues.
Quite a number of other hybrid honeysuckles have been developed over the years, many exceedingly good garden plants. Some of the hybrids are sterile (propagated from cuttings) and some produce viable seed that can yield very interesting results. Hybrid honeysuckles are usually more vigorous than either of their parents and often bloom over a longer period, though quite a few have sacrificed their fragrance along the way. Some that are hardy and recommended include the following:
Lonicera x bella- Beautiful Honeysuckle- Growing about 6 ft. tall and outstandingly hardy, the appropriately named beautiful honeysuckle was developed by Frank Skinner of Manitoba, by crossing L. tatarica with L. morrowii. It produces an attractive, pendulous crown and very showy, pure white blooms that age to yellow at the tips of long branches. The fragrance is delicious and the blossoms are followed by showy red berries. This hybrid has also occurred in Europe, either naturally or by the breeder’s hand I do not know, but both reddish and pink flowered forms exist over there.
Lonicera x ‘Dropmore Scarlet’- Perhaps the most famous honeysuckle in North America, and well known to gardeners and beloved by hummingbirds. The equal of this remarkable hybrid has never been found and it was introduced in the 1950’s by Manitoba plant breeder Frank Skinner. He crossed L. hirsuta with L. sempervirens and spent over thirty years perfecting the results! Growing 10-12 ft. tall, this is a very vigorous, twining woody climber that produces an explosion or orangey-scarlet, yellow throated blooms in early summer. It flowers intermittently after that, and usually has at least a few flowers on it. It is both sterile and long lived, and also easily propagated from cuttings. Although it is often recommended as a good vine for a shady site, the fact is that it will flower poorly in anything less than full sun and becomes very prone to powdery mildew if its need for light is not accommodated. Grow this vine on a strong trellis (it becomes woody and heavy with age). Although it is quite drought resistant, it flowers better when it isn’t wanting for moisture. It is widely regarded as the hardiest climbing honeysuckle in the world. In mild climates it is often semi-evergreen.
Lonicera x ‘Mandarin’- Introduced from UBC in 2003 using ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ as one of the parents. This is an extremely vigorous grower reaching 6-10 ft. and producing an explosion of very showy, brilliant tangerine orange flowers in early summer. It is both exotic looking and beautiful, as well as being a favourite of hummingbirds. Reliably hardy to zone 3, this cultivar has occasionally done well in protected locations in zone 2.