The Himalayan Honeysuckle, Beauty Or Beast?
As the title suggests, there are two ways to look at the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa). One way is to view it as a very attractive plant, welcome in any garden. The other view is that of a very attractive, but very invasive pest. Both viewpoints have merit.
The Himalayan honeysuckle, though not widely known among honeysuckle fanciers, does have its devotees, and is particularly popular in the United Kingdom as well as in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The plant, as the name suggests, is a native of the Himalayan area of China, though does not grow in the higher elevations but rather in more temperate zones. It is a medium sized shrub, usually topping out at about 6 feet in height. It is frost hardy and fast growing, and all in all a tough plant. Seemingly killed by a hard winter freeze it will usually, though not always rebound in the spring, growing as tall as ever by mid summer. Where it is not bothered by frost and cold, the bamboo-like stems will last for several years, and are replaced by new stems as they die off.
The Beastly Side -The Himalayan honeysuckle can be quite an invasive plant however, given the right conditions. Grown as a single plant or in a small group in the Pacific Northwest, it generally behaves itself. In New Zealand however, it is considered a pest weed, and if left unchecked could take over the entire country. Whereas in the United States and the UK, information on the Himalayan honeysuckle is directed towards care and pruning (it doesn't require too much of the latter), information dispersed in New Zealand usually addresses how to kill it. Introduced as a garden ornamental a little over 100 years ago, the plant now faces regional pest management strategies, coupled with area surveillance, so that it may be stamped out when seen wherever it doesn't belong. Formulas are available to the public for foliage spray and stump treatment. In New Zealand the plant is surely seen as attractive, one can't help that. It's just not wanted.
The Beauty Side - A picture is worth a thousand words, and in describing the Himalayan honeysuckle, that saying holds true. It is hard to put in words the beauty of the plant. The honeysuckle has upright, hollow green stems, 3' to 6' long, leaves are opposing, up to 6" long, dark green, arrow-shaped, and with a wavy margin. The blossoms consist of pedicellate flowers, which is to say the flowers have short stalks with red to purple bracts which separate hanging clusters of bell-shaped, white flowers. Hard to describe, but quite stunning in appearance. One newer variety of the plant, called "Golden Lanterns", has light green foliage". The berries of the honeysuckle are also purple. They are considered edible but quite bitter, but birds are fond of them. They will also stain sidewalks (and hands when picked) so be aware of that when selecting a location for the shrub. Hummingbirds love this plant.
Growth And Care - The Himalayan honeysuckle may be grown as a shrub, hedge, or thicket. It prefers full sun, especially in more temperate zones such as the Pacific Northwest. In warmer regions it will do well in partial shade. Side dressing with compost and applying an organic fertilizer each spring is all the care this shrub usually requires. It can be grown from seed, in fact it re seeds itself constantly, or propagated from softwood cuttings. It is not noted for having any particular pest or disease problems.
A Plant Of Many Names - The Himalayan honeysuckle also goes but the names, Elisha's Tears, Flowering Nutmeg, Pheasant Berry, and, in the United Kingdom, Grandmother's Curls. Whatever the name, it is a truly beautiful plant, as long as you can control it.