Honeysuckle That Doesn’t Smell Sweet

Honeysuckle flowers and leaves
Image by Martin LaBar via Flickr

Honeysuckle is a sweet treat that many of us remember from our childhoods. Taking the blooms off the plant and sucking the honey-sweet nectar was fun and exciting. The scent of honeysuckle is heavenly and used to our delight in perfumes, soaps and air fresheners.

Nature is peculiar in all its variety. Did you know that there are some honeysuckle plants that don’t even smell? The blossoms look practically the same as the deliciously scented Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. The Japanese honeysuckle is a vine with pairs of white flowers that fade to yellow.

A group of honeysuckles, called Fly Honeysuckles, are shrubs that are related to the Japanese Honeysuckle. The flowers are tubular with five lobes and they project from the leaf axils. The evenness and length of the flower lobes helps to separate the species of honeysuckle. Also, the habitat where the plant lives will help to distinguish it from its relatives.

The Newcomb Field Guide indicates that fly honeysuckles can be found in swamps and bogs, on alpine slopes, in cool woodlands, in thickets and along roadsides.

Morrow’s Honeysuckle, Lonicera morrowi, is the fly honeysuckle in the photos shared here. A few examples were seen flowering at the spillway of Lake Holman along Little Buffalo Road a couple weeks ago.

First flowers of a fly honeysuckle blooming.
First flowers of a fly honeysuckle blooming.

Fly honeysuckle starting to bloom. Photo taken 18 April 2010. White blossoms are freshly open. Note the pairs of flower buds at each leaf node.

Another example of Morrow’s Honeysuckle (on Little Buffalo Road near the intersection with Route 34) was flowering profusely on 30 April 2010. The symmetry of this plant is remarkable with its pairs of opposite leaves and two flowers per leaf axil. The oval leaves themselves are quite symmetrical. Finding this fly honeysuckle along roadsides shows its invasive character.

Fly honeysuckle shrub at the side of a road.
Fly honeysuckle shrub at the side of a road.
Flowers on a fly honeysuckle at the road side.
Flowers on a fly honeysuckle at the road side.

Honeysuckle flowers practically coat this woody shrub.

Blooms of the fly honeysuckle.
Blooms of the fly honeysuckle.

Close-up view of the flowers of dry honeysuckle shows the older blossoms have turned yellow and new ones in the bud stage are creamy white.

Seeing this honeysuckle and getting close enough to realize that it was the scentless kind makes me want for summer. That’s when the Japanese honeysuckle will be blooming and filling the air with its wonderful fragrance.

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10 thoughts on “Honeysuckle That Doesn’t Smell Sweet

  1. hello my honeysuckle used to have perfume but 3 years on it does not.Could you advise me please.
    Thank you Clare

  2. How interesting, Clare. What you are observing may have something to do with temperature. Has it been very hot where you’re located? If it’s too hot for the plant, it may not spend its resources on producing that sweet smell to attract pollinators until the temperatures are more moderate. Have you checked for the honeysuckle perfume at night?

  3. I have the same problem as clare. My honeysuckle plant has no fragrance this year as it has in the past. It has been cool this spring and summer. Would love to hear your comment. We live on the Oregon Coast. Thanks darlene

  4. Hey Darlene,

    Who wants a honeysuckle that doesn’t smell sweet? Yah!

    If the flowers don’t receive a couple of hours of sunlight, the oils may not warm up enough to be released into the air. Since honeysuckles naturally grow at the woodland edges, them seem to like their roots in the cool shady spots. Perhaps that is why, when left untended, their tendrils wrap around and around in clockwise fashion up and up to seek the sunlight. Your cool weather may have played a part in losing the scent, especially if the flowers aren’t experiencing the sunlight.

    Inspect your honeysuckle and its neighboring plants. Is there some trimming that you could do in spring to make sure the flowers will reach the sunlight?
    Let us know if this works!

  5. Mine too is inscented last couple of years but this year has been glorious till this week, still no scent it’s in a sunny position till late afternoon. Any thoughts

  6. I’m glad that I’m not alone in that my honeysuckle has no scent; I don’t believe it ever did. I have a huge cluster of vines growing up and over an arbor that produces lots of flowers and red berries(?). The birds love it, but I long for the honeysuckle perfume. It has a full day of sunshine all through the summer. Isn’t there something to add to the soil to get the plant to produce the scent? (I seriously am tempted to buy perfume and spray it each day!!!)

  7. Hi Cheryl,

    Spraying perfume on your honeysuckle is likely the only way it’ll have a fragrance. Some species of honeysuckle, unfortunately including the American honeysuckles, just don’t have a scent. Check out this article at Dave’s Garden to see and read about a huge variety of honeysuckles that do. Thanks Todd!

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