Typically, I would spew a filthy invective against any invasive plant that chokes out and supplants native species. Honeysuckle, though, is another matter. When the vines green up in late February or early March it’s easy to feel good about tearing the damn things up by the roots as they twine around some other plant you’d like to keep healthy. “Be gone you bastards!” you angrily scream as you pull up the knotty roots while your neighbors look out of windows to see if you’re yelling at them again.
Ah, but when honeysuckle begins to bloom in late May or June it’s a different story. The fragrance is so heavenly and the temptation of pulling the flowers off the vines to suck out the sweet nectar from the blossoms’ throats intoxicates you, lulls you into submission. “Sure, heavenly-smelling killer, curl your evil woody tendrils around my rose bushes, my forsythias, my raspberries, and choke the life of them. You have done such a brilliant job of twisting yourself around their delicate limbs that I’d probably kill them trying to pull you up anyway. Take them all, but don’t let me lose my sense of smell.”
Honeysuckle comes in 180 different species, from the mildly aromatic and almost benign bush form to its delicious smelling and incredibly invasive vines. There are several native species, but it’s now more common to find the invasive varieties.
One bush variety, lonicera fragrantissima, is almost fragile. It blooms near the end of winter, smells like the most delectable citrus, and carries the colloquial title “Sweet Breath of Spring” and “Kiss Me By the Gate.” How could you hate something with names like that? A giant bush used to grow across the street from my house and I’d always be surprised to see the tiny white flowers in February and be delighted at the fragrance every time I took a breath. In addition, the bush would occasionally put out sweet red berries in the summer. Then some sons-a-bitches cut it down to build a fucking subdivision. Now all I smell is exhaust.
There is actually one species of honeysuckle, lonicera caerulea, that is grown for its odd-looking but tasty blue berries, although the berries of most varieties of honeysuckle are slightly poisonous – at least for humans.
The more common honeysuckle in the South is lonicera japonica, sometimes known as “Japanese honeysuckle” or “Chinese honeysuckle” or even “white honeysuckle.” I guess people just couldn’t decide WHO they wanted to blame for it and the Japanese and Chinese finally said, “Hey, it’s YOUR problem now, you white bastards.” Lonicera japonica was introduced to the United States in 1806 and since that time it has fragrantly choked out anything in its path.
For those of us here in the South lonicera japonica is embedded in the memory our childhoods. Idyllic days, drifting on the sweetness of those flowers and a fragrance so delicious that it could even cover up the smell of barnyards and pig shit. Yes, honeysuckle, you get a pass on my hatred. Let your delicious smell waft its way into my bedroom in the morning and gently rock me to sleep at night. And if kudzu can figure out how to give a blowjob it can stay, too.
Yours in Christ,