As April showers fall on fertile ground and the days get warmer, green begins to pop up out of the ground everywhere you look. The grass in your yard grows and gets greener, while spring flowers begin to show their first blooms.
You may also begin to see climbing vines and sections of ground cover bring forth white blooms that release a fantastic fragrance into the air. Each spring many people look forward to the time when this plant scents the air with a smell that many equate with spring. What are we talking about? Honeysuckle, of course!
For many children, a spring rite of passage is plucking honeysuckle blossoms to suck out the flower's sweet, tasty nectar. If you've ever enjoyed wild honeysuckle nectar, then you know what a sweet treat nature can provide.
Children aren't the only ones who enjoy honeysuckle nectar. The sweet juice also draws a variety of bees and birds, especially hummingbirds, to these flowers in search of nectar and pollen.
Scientists have identified over 180 different species of honeysuckle, all of which are native to the Northern Hemisphere. Most of these species (about 100) can be found in China, while about 20 species each can be found in Europe, India, and North America.
The species of honeysuckle most children are familiar with is called Lonicera japonica, which is also known as Japanese honeysuckle or white honeysuckle. It can grow as a shrub or a vine, but is most often seen as a vine that climbs trees or covers other shrubs.
Although many people love the fresh smell and sweet taste of honeysuckle, many others, especially gardeners, aren't big fans of the plant. That's because it's an invasive species that originally came to North America from Asia.
Since its arrival, it has spread quickly in a wide variety of environments because it has no natural predators. Found along the edges of forests, streams, and roads, as well as in fields and gardens, Japanese honeysuckle can grow rapidly and push out native plants.
Japanese honeysuckle is easy to identify. It has oval leaves that grow in pairs, one on each side of the stem. Its fragrant flowers bloom white and then turn yellow over time. These plants also bear tiny red, blue, or black berries that many birds enjoy as a tasty treat but can make humans ill.
In fact, birds are one of the main reasons honeysuckle plants spread so quickly. When they eat the tiny berries, the seeds within them pass through their digestive system. When they eliminate waste as they fly, the seeds get distributed to new areas, where new honeysuckle plants will take off during the next growing season.