What is a Himalayan Honeysuckle?

Alex Tree

The Himalayan honeysuckle, or Leycesteria formosa, is a perennial deciduous shrub belonging to the Caprifoliaceae, or the honeysuckle, family. It measures 6 feet (1.8 m) in height and has upright hollow stems and delicately scented flowers. Native to the Himalayas and southwestern China, this plant is also found in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Its natural habitats are scrubs and shady forests, where the plant is usually found near streams. This plant also goes by the names flowering nutmeg, Himalaya nutmeg, and pheasant berry.

Himalayan honeysuckle is native to southwestern China.
Himalayan honeysuckle is native to southwestern China.

Dark green and shaped like wavy arrowheads, the leaves of the Himalayan honeysuckle measure up to 6 inches (0.15 m) long. This plant has hermaphroditic flowers that bloom from June to September. The white funnel-shaped flowers of this plant have short stalks and red to purple bracts by which they hang in clusters. Stems of this plant can live for up to five years and are then replaced by new stems when they die out.

The Himalayan honeysuckle is native to the Himalayas and China.
The Himalayan honeysuckle is native to the Himalayas and China.

The fruit of this plant is edible, though there is some disagreement in regard to its taste. Some say that the fully ripe fruit is sweet, while others say it is very bitter. Birds such as blackbirds, hummingbirds, and pheasants seem to like the dark purple berries. Those who want to find out for themselves what the fruit of the Himalayan honeysuckle tastes like should be warned that the berries are difficult to pick, as they get squished easily. When the fruit bursts, it can stain clothing.

Natural propagation of the Himalayan honeysuckle is through seed dispersal by birds. Under cultivation, the seeds are best sown in a cold frame in late autumn where they will germinate in spring and typically be planted outdoors in summer. Propagation is also possible through cuttings. Planted in sunny to partially shaded areas, this plant can thrive in any type of soil, even soil with poor nutritional value. The plant is hardy in temperatures as low as -15 ºC (59 ºF) and can grow back even after prolonged snow.

Its highly regarded appearance has made the Himalayan honeysuckle a highly sought after garden plant in the United Kingdom and the Pacific Northwest of the United States. While some home gardeners in those areas like its fast-growing characteristics, it has a tendency to get out of control and should be pruned regularly. In fact, in Australia and New Zealand, this plant is listed as an invasive weed. Other than its ornamental uses, the plant can also be grown into a hedge, and its hollow stems may be made into flutes and whistles.

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