Honeysuckle, Elders, and other (former) genera from the Caprifoliaceae family

Common Honeysuckle (by Matt Summers)

Lonicera or Honeysuckle

There are 5 different species of the climbing and shrubby honeysuckles mentioned in the Wild Flower Key but only two are native.

The first one is the fragrant, climbing and twining Honeysuckle or Lonicera periclymenum, which is fairly common throughout the British Isles.

It is a much loved wild flower as the flowers are highly scented by night, much less so by day. The plant is usually pollinated by moths or long-tongued bees and develops bright red berries.

Mythology and Symbolism:

It was once believed that if honeysuckle grew around a home’s entrance, it would bring good luck and stop any evil spirits from entering. It has also long been considered a symbol of fidelity, and in Victorian times young girls were banned from bringing honeysuckle into the house because it was believed the strong smell would make them have suggestive dreams!

Ornamental and Other Uses:

Lonicera periclymenum is one of several honeysuckle species valued in the garden, for its ability to twine around other plants, or to cover unsightly walls or outbuildings; and for the intense fragrance of its profuse flowers in summer. It needs to be planted with its roots in the shade, and its flowering top in sun or light shade.

Plants need to be chosen with care as they can grow to a substantial size. The cultivars ‘Graham Thomas‘ and ‘Serotina’ have gained the Royal Horticultural Society‘s Award of Garden Merit.

Honeysuckle has been used to make beautiful walking sticks which were once popular with Scots music hall performers. They were created as the honeysuckle entwined itself around branches, causing the branches themselves to become twisted. 

While the berries are poisonous, the leaves, flowers and seeds have been used for medicinal purposes for a variety of conditions.

Uses for Wildlife:

Dormice make summer nests for their young from honeysuckle bark; they also eat the flowers, which are a good source of energy-rich nectar. Night-flying moths such as the hummingbird hawk-moth can detect the scent of honeysuckle flowers up to a quarter of a mile away. The clusters of red berries are eaten in the autumn by birds such as thrushesbullfinches and warblers.

From a drawing by Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm)

The second native species is Lonicera xylosteum or Fly Honeysuckle

Ornamental Uses:

This is a dense, bushy, deciduous shrub, to 3m tall, with grey-green foliage. Small, tubular, two-lipped, creamy-white flowers are produced in pairs along the shoots in late spring and early summer, followed by showy red, or rarely yellow, berries

The glossy red (or occasionally yellow) berries of this shrub are mildly poisonous to humans – children who ingest a large number (c. 30) of berries may experience abdominal pain and vomiting.

The apt named Twinflower by Walter Siegmund (Wikipedia)

A rare native plant in the Caprifoliaceae is the Linnaeae borealis or Twinflower.

The genus Linnaea was first formally described by Carl Linnaeus. The name had been used earlier by the Dutch botanist Jan Frederik Gronovius, and was given in honour of Linnaeus. Linnaeus adopted the name in 1753 inSpecies Plantarum for the then sole species Linnaea borealis, because it was his favourite plant.

L. borealis is a creeping, mat-forming shrub with small, glossy, dark green leaves with buff undersides. In summer pairs of small, pale pink, nodding, bell-shaped flowers are produced from the tips of leafy side shoots. Overall the plant is only 8cm high, but can spread to a metre or more across.

Other non native plants in the Caprifoliaceae

There are several other ornamental escapees on the British Isles in both the honeysuckle genus (Lonicera spp.) as well as different genera.

Two more well known wonderful weedy types below:

Leycesteria formosa close up (Wikipedia)

Leycesteria formosa or Himalayan Honeysuckle:


This is a lovely and interesting ornamental which was favoured by the Victorians. It has occasionally escaped into the wild. Also attractive to wildlife for its flowers as well as berries.

Leycesteria formosa, or the Himalayan honeysuckle, Flowering nutmegHimalaya nutmeggranny’s curls or pheasant berry, is a deciduous shrub in the family Caprifoliaceae, native to the Himalaya and southwesternChina. It is considered a noxious invasive species in Australia, New Zealand, the neighbouring islands of Micronesia, and some other places

Edible Uses:

From Plants for a Future: One unconfirmed report said that the fruit is edible. In the better forms, the fully ripe and very soft fruit is very sweet with a treacle-like flavour, though in other forms it has a very bitter taste and is not very desirable.

Snow-white berries (by By H. Zell – Own work)

Symphoricarpus albus or Snowberry

This can be a rather enthusiastic, ornamental, suckering shrub, escaped in the wild occasionally. It can be excused for its invasive habits as it is a very useful wildlife plant and beautiful en mass with the large, long lasting white berries.


I’ve always noted many bees around the tiny flowers and according to Wikipedia: in North America; many birds and small mammals use it for food and cover. It is sometimes planted as game cover in woods, scrub, etc.

The fruit and shrub itself are poisonous to humans, causing vomiting.

Native Americans used the plant as a medicine and a soap, and sometimes for food, and the wood was good for arrow shafts. In Russia, the berries are crushed in the hands and rubbed about for a soothing folk-remedy hand lotion.

This shrub is used for erosion control in riparian areas, and it is planted in ecological restoration projects on disturbed sites such as abandoned mines.

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