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American Fly Honeysuckle - Lonicera canadensis

American Fly Honeysuckle - Lonicera canadensis

Lonicera canadensis, also known as Canadian or American Fly Honeysuckle, is a deciduous shrub native to Michigan and the U.P. You know how much I love the plants that are more common up here than downstate, and this is no exception. I frequently get questions about "what is this shrub?!" as Yoopers venture out on their first spring hikes and are entranced by the subtle beauty of the pairs of spring flowers hanging below green leaves which unfurl and bring woodland color before hardly anything else. This is a lovely understory shrub with a delicate appearance and early (typically May), pale yellow, tubular blooms that are some of the first able to support pollinators and hummingbirds arriving from the south. The red berries that follow are favorites of other birds while the jumbled branches provide nesting sites.


This shrub is polite, ranging in height from 2 to 5 feet. It does not usually form colonies and relies on birds to spread its seeds in the forest. It prefers medium to moist forest soil but can tolerate anything from medium-dry upland sites to lakeshores and swamps. The MSU Michigan Natural Features Inventory has it listed as a component of many different forest types, from hardwood-conifer to boreal to dry-mesic. It is prefers part shade, especially open canopies,  but can tolerate full shade, although flowering may be reduced. This would be a great addition to a shade garden, as a component of a soft-landing zone garden under a large tree, a soil-holder on shady slopes, or as a foundation plant on the north or east side of a structure.


Like many plants which are more common in the U.P. than more populous areas, I can find little on insect relationships for this plant. I did find one absolutely wonderful webpage whose author, Pamela Johnson, describes the wonders of this plant far better than I could. She says in part:


"Lonicera canadensis [as opposed to invasive honeysuckles from Eurpoe and Asia,] on the other hand, exults in shade and filtered light. Its leaves and flowers appear early while canopy trees are not in full leaf. This adventitious greening distinguishes American honeysuckle from other native understory shrubs; its delicate leaves are like virescent brushstrokes, emerald dabs against fine, pale branches. Small, paired, lightest yellow flowers are pendent below the leaves. The flowers are tubular, like tiny trumpets and their shapes invite the ministrations of moths, most importantly the Sphingidae, the sphinx or hawk moths.


The snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) and the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) both resemble large bumblebees. Their hovering flights during feeding is hummingbird-like; their elongate tongues can probe the honeysuckle flower’s nectary. [...]


Mellitophilous bees, members of the AndrenidaeOsmia, and Halictidae families also pollinate American honeysuckles. These are the mining, mason, and sweat bee, some solitary, some semisocial, who are abundant in springtime. Their sizes are appropriate for the delicate flowers of Lonicera canadensis. Bumblebees (Bombusspecies) may also rummage the blossoms for pollen and nectar, but they are oafishly less effective as pollinators.


There is not much to be found about the faunal associations of Lonicera canadensis. Most references turn out to be for other members of the genus. American honeysuckle’s fruit, seeded and rich red, is appealing to birds. But when the avian species list is examined- catbirds, cardinals, robins, blackbirds, blue jays, white-throated sparrows- it is clear that these are backyard frugivores, not woodland birds who would be nesting in Lonicera canadensis’s woody habitat. Brown thrashers, green-cheeked thrushes, ruffed grouse, and yellow-rumped warblers comprise a more appropriate roster."


Please do read the rest of her lyrical post on American Fly Honeysuckle here:

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    This product page was updated in February of 2024.

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