When nearly all other plants seem to have shut up the nectar shop for the winter, the small scented flowers of Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, perfume the air. They provide flies and hoverflies with a welcome source of nectar on warmer, winter days. They fill a much-needed, nectar supply gap between late winter and early spring. That role earns Winter Honeysuckle recognition as a harbinger of spring. One common name is Sweet Breath of Spring.
Lonicera fragrantissima is different to other plant members in Caprifoliaceae or the Honeysuckle family. It is a shrub as opposed to a climber. Commonly rumoured to be invasive, Winter Honeysuckle is not on the UK’s Schedule of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The invasive status relates to limited areas of the United States according to maps in the US invasive plant atlas. The online report acknowledges that the shrub provides wildlife with food and shelter. Birds and mammals have dispersed the seeds of this garden ornamental shrub into the wild by eating its berries. Wildlife pays no regard to whether a plant is native or alien in its hunt for food. The invasive species versus biodiversity support argument is a tricky, multi-faceted discussion.
Winter Honeysuckle originates from China. It is one of over 120 species introduced to Britain by the Royal Horticultural Society’s plant hunter, Robert Fortune (1812-1880). He is more closely associated with, and remembered for, acquiring tea plants for The East India Company.
Robert Fortune: The Plant Hunter
The Scottish botanist shaved his head and wore just a ponytail and Chinese clothes to blend into the country. He thus gained easier access to inland China. He sent the seeds/plants across the Himalayas in Wardian cases. His actions were to change the Chinese monopoly on tea, ultimately transferring the power of British tea supplier to India. Carolyn Fry describes this as a ‘cunning act of biopiracy’ in Kew’s The Plant Hunters.
By comparison, the arrival of Winter Honeysuckle in Britain is much more sweet-smelling.
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
These pages illustrate my love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. I love sharing. This blog is a showcase for my own photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics.
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