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A genus of about 180 deciduous or sometimes evergreen species of bushy or climbing shrubs, with usually peeling bark, named by Linnaeus after Lonizer, a German naturalist who flourished in the middle part of the 16th century. The leading generic characters are: Leaves opposite, shortly stalked or stalkless; flowers pentamerous, in axillary pairs on a common stalk, or in whorls, subtended by bracts and usually bractlets; calyx five-toothed (sometimes almost untoothed); corolla tubular or bell-shaped and five-lobed, the lobes sometimes equal, but more frequently forming two ‘lips’, the upper lip composed of four short lobes, the lower lip of a single single strap-shaped lobe. Ovary inferior. Fruit a fleshy berry. The flowers often change from white to yellow with age.
Lonicera is usually divided into two subgenera. In the larger of the two the flowers are borne in pairs in the axils of leaves; mostly these species are shrubs, but those of the section Nintooa are climbers (e.g., L.japonica). In the other subgenus, which is smaller but horticulturally more important, the species are mostly twiners and produce their flowers at the ends of the shoots in whorls, which may be distant from each other, forming a spike; or clustered into a terminal head.
The standard work on the genus is ‘Synopsis of the Genus Lonicera’ by Dr Alfred Rehder, published in Rep. Missouri Bot. Gard., Vol. 14 (1903), pp. 27-232.
Although the value of the genus in gardens is not commensurate with its size, it does contain a number of extremely beautiful species, and of the climbing group, every species that is hardy is worth growing. The free-growing woodbines are best accommodated on pergolas or similar supports, or planted to ramble over small trees or bushes; but some of the less rambling ones may be at first trained up stout posts 4 or 6 ft high, and then allowed to form loose, spreading shrubs, needing no further support. The climbing honeysuckles are very subject to attacks of aphides in summer, especially during hot dry spells; if these are not repelled by applications of some insecticide they sometimes destroy the crop of blossom. All the species like a good loamy soil, and especially cool moist conditions at the root – given these, the attacks of aphides are often naturally overcome.
The bush honeysuckles are in this country somewhat disappointing shrubs. Many of them, especially those of North Asiatic origin, are almost invariably cut by spring frosts and much of their blossom destroyed. Consequently we never see their full beauty of flower or of fruit – and many species are extremely handsome when bearing full crops of red, yellow, black, blue, or white, often translucent, berries. The propagation of those species that do bear fruit is easily effected by seed, but I do not know of any species that cannot be increased by cuttings of firm young shoots, placed in gentle bottom heat about July or August. If heat be not available, cuttings of somewhat harder wood may be dibbled in sandy soil under handlights out-of-doors.
An excellent survey of the climbing honeysuckles by David Wright will be found in The Plantsman, Vol. 4(4), pp. 236-52 (1983).