Lonicera hirsuta

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NameLonicera hirsuta Eaton

Family: Caprifoliaceae, the Honeysuckle Family

Common Names: Hairy honeysuckle

lonhir_aspect01Etymology: Lonicera is named after the 16th century German botanist, physicist and herbalist Adam Lonitzer (also spelled Lonicer), while hirsuta comes from the Latin hirsutus, meaning “hairy,” “rough,” or “shaggy.” The term honeysuckle comes from the honey or nectar that can be easily sucked from the flower (3, 5) 

Botanical synonyms: Lonicera hirsuta Eat. var. interior Gleason and Lonicera hirsuta Eat. var. schindleri Boivin (1).

Quick Notable Features:
¬ pubescent stems, petioles, and leaf surfaces, as seen in image to the right.
¬ ciliate leaf margins
¬ small, hairy, yellow, tubular flowers with highly exserted stamens and style.

Plant Height: typically 2.5 – 3m at maturity (11)

lonhir_leaves01_web400gfSubspecies/varieties recognized:
All previous subspecies and varieties are now united under the one name Lonicera hirsuta. 

Most Likely Confused with: Within the genus Lonicera, L. dioica is the most similar.  L. caprifolium also bears similarities in its flowers. Other than confusion within the genus, it may be mistaken for a species of Euonymus.

Habitat Preference: Found in “woods and thickets, with cedar, fir, oak, aspen, pine, birch, and other trees… particularly along borders, clearings, and banks; often in sandy or rocky ground, occasionally in swamps” (4).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: Found in almost all counties north of the 45th parallel except Alcona, Kalkaska, Antrim, and Ostego counties (in the lower peninsula) and Luce and Alger counties (in the upper peninsula).  It is also found in Ingham County, in the southern lower peninsula (1).

Known Elevational Distribution: no data found.

Complete Geographic Distribution: This North American native is found from New England and eastern New York to southern Ontario, Minnesota, and Manitoba (1, 6).

Vegetative Plant Description: This trailing or climbing, perennial, deciduous vine has a smooth, woody stem and glandular-villous branchlets.  The oppositely arranged leaves are 3.7-15cm long and 1.5-9cm wide, dark-green above and lighter beneath (see images above).  The leaves are simple, entire-margined, broadly oval, “tapered to a sessile or subsessile base, which is generally densely pubescent.”  Although the margins are entire, they can be fringed with hair, or cilia (this can be seen in the second image above and the second image below).  The apex of the leaf can range from obtuse to acute. Leaves are pubescent on both surfaces, especially the abaxial surface.  The uppermost leaves are united into 1 or 2 disks that are usually acuminate at each end, and the lower ones are sessile or short petioled (4, 5, 10, 11).

Climbing Mechanism: Darwin noted that all members of the genus Lonicera climb with the apex of the plant, which moves dextrally (left to right) or, as Darwin referred to it “with the sun” (8).

lonhir_flower01Flower Description: The inflorescence is a terminal, interrupted spike that is usually sessile, but can be peduncled, and is usually subtended by a pair of rounded leafy bracts.  The calyx is minute and the bilabiate corolla is 2-2.5cm long and orange-yellow; it may turn reddish.  It is hairy within, and sparsely hairy without (seen to the right).  The upper lip consists of four lobes. The five stamens and single style are clearly exserted, and the ovary is inferior (5, 6, 11). The genus Lonicera is known to have 2-3 locules, however this has not been confirmed for this species.

Flowering Time: In central and northeastern United States, as well as the adjacent areas of Canada, it is known to flower from May to July, sometimes until August (5, 7). 

1004712_frtPollinator: Although specific data was not found for this species, the flower is rather similar to that of Lonicera caprifolium.  The narrow-throated, fragrant flowers suggest pollination by moths or butterflies.  The yellow color suggests it is pollinated nocturnally as yellow or white corollas are good indicators of such. Although moths are the most likely pollinators, other small insects and birds may also contribute.

Fruit Type and Description: A cluster of small (exact size not specified), fleshy, smooth, orange to red berries matures and is dispersed from July to October.  The persistent calyx on two mature and a few immature fruits can be seen in the image to the right (5, 11, 12). 

Seed Description: no specific information located. 

Dispersal Syndrome: In general, the small, “attractive red, orange, or black” fruits of the genus Lonicera are consumed by birds and the few to many seeds of each fruit are dispersed in feces as the bird travels.  Stiles (1980) showed that because of their small seeds, tough pericarp, and fruiting time, the fruits of both this species and L. dioica are more likely to be dispersed by non-migratory birds and mammals.  They fruit after fledglings have left the area and before the migratory seasons for most birds.  Furthermore, the sweet taste (high sugar content) and relatively low position to the ground serve as a further attractant to local, non-migratory birds (such as turkeys) and mammals (7, 12).

Distinguished by: Within the genus, L. hirsuta is most likely confused with L. dioica due to both species’ terminal cluster of flowers and fruit.  However, L. dioica has leaves that are narrowly elliptic, lack cilia, and are smooth both above and below.  The apex of the leaves of L. hirsuta is acute to blunt, while the apices of the leaves of L. dioica are blunt to rounded (11).

The flowers of L. hirsuta are similar to those of L. caprifolium. However, those of L. caprifolium are usually longer.  According to Humphrey (1914), a more evident difference between the inflorescences is that L. caprifolium flowers are glabrous within and the terminal cluster is sessile, while flowers of the inflorescence of L. hirsuta are pubescent and the cluster is more or less stalked (10).

L. hirsuta may also be confused with members of the genus Euonymus; however, members of Lonicera almost always have entire margins, while the margins of members of Euonymus bear leaves with fine serrations. L. hirsuta is also pubescent whereas Euonymus species are glabrous 

Other members of the family in Michigan (number species): Lonicera – 18, Diervilla – 1, Kolkwitzia – 1, Linnaea – 1, Sambucus – 2, Symphoricarpos – 3, Triosteum – 2, Viburnum – 11 (1).

Ethnobotanical Uses: none found (13, 14)

CAPRLonicerahirsutaMAPPhylogenetic Information: The family Caprifoliaceae consists of 36 genera and within the family, clades include Linnaeeae (Dipelta, Abelia, Kolkwitzia, Valeriana and Dipascus), Diervillaceae (Diervilla and Weigela) and an unnamed clade of Lonicera, Symphoricarpos and their relatives.  Currently, Caprifoliaceae are the only members of the Dipsacales clade, but this organization is somewhat in doubt (2).  As it stands, the Dipsacales are part of the Euasterids II, which also contains the Aquifoliales, Apiales, Dipsacales, and Asterales.  These are all members of the Core Asterids of the Asterid clade, which, along with the Rosids, make up the Core Tricolpates (2). 

Interesting Quotation or Other Interesting Factoid not inserted above (7):

  • First cultivated in 1825
  • It has been observed that the seeds of the genus Lonicera remain viable after storage for 15 years in sealed containers, at low temperatures.
  • While most species of Lonicera require prechilling in order for the seeds to germinate, this species and L. oblongifolia require “warm stratification at 20/30°C for 60 days” (7).
  • This species is considered endangered in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania (1).
  • Recommended as a good alternative to plant in place of invasive species of Lonicera.


Literature and websites used:

  1. USDA Plants Profile, <http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LOHI>
  2. Judd, W.S., C.S. Campbell, E.A. Kellogg, and P.F. Stevens.  1999 Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach.  Sunderland, Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates, Inc.
  3. Brown, R.W. 1978 Composition of Scientific Words.  Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  4. Voss, E.G. 1996. Michigan Flora Part III Dicots Continued.  Ann Arbor, Michigan: Cranbrook Institute.
  5. Fernald, M.L. 1970. Gray’s Manual of Botany, 8th edition.  D. Van Nostrand Company, New York.
  6. Gleason, H.A. 1968. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, vol. 3.  Hafner Publishing Co., Inc, New York.
  7. Young, J.A. and C.G. Young 1992. Seeds of Woody Plants in North America.  Portland, Oregon:  Dioscorides Press.
  8. Darwin, C. 1876. The movements and habits of climbing plants. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
  9. Glenn, S.D. 2006. New York Metropolitan Flora: Lonicera: Honeysuckle. <http://nymf.bbg.org/genus/99> New York: Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  10. Humphrey, L.E., 1914 The Honeysuckle Family in Ohio. The Ohio Naturalist 14: 6.
  11. Plant Description: Lonicera hirsuta. Last modified: 1/22/07 Northern Ontario Plants Database. <http://www.northernontarioflora.ca/description.cfm?speciesid=1004712>
  12. Stiles, E.W. 1980 Patterns of Fruit Presentation and Seed Dispersal in Bird-Disseminated Woody Plants in the Eastern Deciduous Forest.  The American Naturalist. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  13. Plants For A Future: Edible medicinal, and useful plants for a healthier world. <http://www.pfaf.org/index.html> Accessed November 2006.

Image Credits (all used with permission):
1, 2, & 3) Images of flowering stem, leaf nodes, and flower are © 2002-2006 by Gary Fewless Cofrin, Center for Biodiversity, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay retrieved from <http://www.uwgb.edu/biodiversity/herbarium/shrubs/lonhir01.htm>
4) The image of the fruit is copyright Susan J. Meades from the Northeron Ontario Plants Database at <http://www.northernontarioflora.ca/description.cfm?speciesid=1004712>
5) Species distribution map, derived from the Michigan Flora Online.

Primary Authors: Marko Melymuka and John Bradtke, with editing by Robyn J. Burnham

© Robyn J. Burnham, University of Michigan

For additional information on Michigan Plant Diversity web pages please contact Robyn J. Burnham via email: rburnham“at”umich.edu