Honeysuckle Heaven

Burmese honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandeana)

Burmese honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandeana)

Q: The other day I was at Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks and noticed a huge shrub with large, tubular, yellow-orange flowers, which — like all strange flowers I encounter — I could not resist sniffing. I was delighted with the scent and want to know the name of this plant and how to take care for it. It was growing outside on the east side of the shopping center.
— Eleanor Evans, North Hollywood
A: Inspired by your e-mail, I scouted the east side of Fashion Square and am delighted to inform you that the plant you have described is giant Burmese honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandiana). My delight comes from the fact that this is the first time I have seen this plant growing in the Valley.
Actually, I did not think it would flower here because of its tropical origins. I had tried growing it without success in Woodland Hills on several occasions. My experience had been that giving it enough sun to flower meant that it got torched during the summer. I had seen it growing without difficulty by the ocean and concluded that the Valley’s dry heat was just too severe for a plant native to the steamy rain forests of Burma. Then again, the climate in Sherman Oaks and the East Valley, where you located the Burmese honeysuckle, is a bit milder — less hot in summer and less cold in winter — than the climate in Woodland Hills and the West Valley.
Giant Burmese honeysuckle is usually grown as a vine. Its flowers, reaching 7 inches in length, are larger than those of any other honeysuckle variety. At Fashion Square, it is growing in a somewhat protected location where it receives only partial sun. Protection from full sun also means protection from cold exposure, an important matter in the case of the frost-sensitive Burmese honeysuckle.
The giant Burmese honeysuckle has a piercingly sweet fragrance that is more distinctive than the strong but somewhat musky scent of the more commonly seen Hall’s honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica “Halliana’), that vine with the white flowers that turn golden yellow. Hall’s honeysuckle, however, has an uncontrollable, weedy habit of growth that has earned it a place on the list of invasive plants that, as garden escapees, imperil the environment. Giant Burmese honeysuckle, on the other hand, is quite controllable. In fact, when trained to grow as a vine along a wall or fence, it will vine around itself, assuming the appearance of a shrub or bushy tree.
An attractive feature of giant Burmese honeysuckle is its long bloom period, which stretches from spring until fall. In this capacity, it resembles a plant known as cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis).
Cape honeysuckle, native to the southern tip of Africa, reaches the peak of its bloom this time of year. It is best-known for its striking orange-red flowers, although a variety with yellow flowers is also occasionally seen. It has no botanical relationship to the true honeysuckles but owes its name to its double-lipped flowers, which closely resemble those of its horticultural namesakes.
Cape honeysuckle is also a rampant grower and is a danger in the garden, much like Hall’s honeysuckle. It will quickly strangle more delicate plants in the vicinity. Like Hall’s honeysuckle, cape honeysuckle is an excellent plant for erosion control or slope stabilization since it roots wherever it goes and its soil moisture requirements, once it has established itself, are minimal. Last but not least, the California native chaparral honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) is eminently suitable for Valley gardens. It grows in both sun and light shade and has captivating pink and yellow flowers. Its leaves are a fascinating blue green color, and it attracts native hummingbirds.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Honeysuckle grows with a minimum of water and does not require fertilization. It is also easily propagated by layering. Bend honeysuckle shoots (still attached to the vine) and put several inches of the shoot in a pot. Fill the pot with well-drained soil and nest or support it within the branches of your vine. Keep the soil moist, and within six to 10 weeks roots will start to form at the bend. Cut the shoots when a root mass has developed and you will have created a potted honeysuckle of your own.
Joshua Siskin’s column appears every Saturday. He welcomes questions from readers and will answer them in his column once a month. If you have a question, write to him in care of the Daily News Features Department, P.O. Box 4200, Woodland Hills, CA 91365-4200. You can also reach him via e-mail garden18@earthlink.net . Topics of general interest will be discussed in the column.

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