Honeysuckle

Plant: Honeysuckle
Botanical Name: LONICERA (lon-NUH-seh-ra)

Synonyms, Country Names: Flower of June, wild woodbine, lush woodbine (in Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Caprifolium.

Caprifolium is a specific name of the Honeysuckle, given to it by the old herbalists, because the leaf, or more properly the stem, climbs and wanders over high places where goats are not afraid to tread. The plant is a favorite food of goats, hence the Latin name Caprifolium (Goats' Leaf), the French Chèvre-feuille, German Geisblatt and Italian Capri-foglio, all signifying the same.

Ellacombe discussed the Woodbine and the Honeysuckle together because, based on his research, there was little doubt that in Shakespeare's time the two names belonged to the same plant and that the Woodbine was (where the two names were at all referenced separately) applied to the plant generally, and the Honeysuckle to the flower. In earlier writings the name was applied very loosely to almost any creeping or climbing plant. After Shakespeare's time again the names began to be used interchangeably.

Symbolic: The Honeysuckle is so called because of the honey-dew found so plentifully on its foliage.

Quotations: And bid her steal into the pleached bower
Where Honeysuckles, ripen'd by the sun,
Forbid the sun to enter.

Hero, Much Ado About Nothing. Act III. Sc. 1.
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So angle we for Beatrice; who even now
Is couched in the Woodbine coverture.

Ursula, Much Ado About Nothing. Act III. Sc. 1.
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Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms.
So doth the Woodbine the sweet Honeysuckle
ently entwist; the Female Ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the Elm.

Titania, Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act IV. Sc. 1.
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I know a bank where the wild Thyme blows,
Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious Woodbine.

Oberon, Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act II. Sc. 1.
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O thou Honeysuckle villain.

Mistress Quickly, 2nd Henry IV. Act. II. Sc.1.

Cultivation: Honeysuckle vines are easy to grow, vigorous, heat tolerant, and nearly indestructible. The flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The most common use is to allow Honeysuckle vines to grow along a trellis, fence, arbor, or other framework; but it can be grown without support as a ground cover or used for erosion control. The vines bloom heavily in spring and to some extent through the summer.

Honeysuckle prefers full sun but will tolerate partial sun. Once established, it needs only moderate watering. Honeysuckle can be planted in early spring as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

The Useful Plant: The flower, seed, and leaves can be used for medicine. Do not confuse Honeysuckle with plants known as woodbine, such as American ivy and Clematis virginiana.

Honeysuckle is used for digestive disorders including pain and swelling (inflammation) of the small intestine (enteritis) and dysentery; upper respiratory tract infections including colds, influenza, swine flu, and pneumonia; other viral and bacterial infections; swelling of the brain (encephalitis); fever; boils; and sores. Honeysuckle is also used for urinary disorders, headache, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Some people use it to promote sweating, as a laxative, to counteract poisoning, and for birth control.

Honeysuckle is sometimes applied to the skin for inflammation and itching, and to kill germs.

Folklore: An herb of Mercury. It is thought to be the Flower of June, and ballads and songs associate Honeysuckle with lovers by celebrating its sweet scent and twining habit. Chaucer gave the crown of Woodbine to those who were constant in love.

The following is from Ellacombe. The Honeysuckle has ever been the emblem of firm and fast affection—as it climbs round any tree or bush that is near it not only clinging to it faster than Ivy, but keeping its hold so tight as to leave its mark in deep furrows on the tree that has supported it. The old writers are fond of alluding to this. Bullein in "The Book of Simples," 1562, says very prettily, "Oh, how swete and pleasant is Wood-binde, in woodes or arbours, after a tender, soft rain: and how friendly doe this herbe, if I maie so name it, imbrace the bodies, armes, and branches of trees, with his long winding stalkes, and tender leaves, openyng or spreading forthe his swete Lillis, like ladie's fingers, emōg the thornes or bushes," and there is no doubt from the context that he is here referring to the Honeysuckle.

Personal: The Genus LONICERA comprises a group of over 100 species of shrubs and climbing vines native to Asia, Europe, and North America. According to Henry Nicholson Ellacombe (Ellacombe), in his book The Plant-Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare published in 1884, there were two native species (LONICERA periclymenum and LONICERA xylosteum) and about eighty exotic species; but, he felt, none of them was sweeter or prettier than the native species, which has fragrant flowers and pretty, fleshy, red fruit.

The name of the genus, LONICERA, was given by Linnaeus in honor of Adam Lonicer (1528-86), a German physician and naturalist.

In autumn 1995 Colorado Shakespeare Gardens planted LONICERA periclymenum, “Graham Thomas” in the Garden. This species was identified by the famous English horticulturist Graham Stuart Thomas.

In 2014 two Honeysuckle were planted on each side of one of the new three new trellises in the Garden.

One of the delights of guiding a tour of the Gardens is pointing out plants that were familiar to the Elizabethans. Now the true English wild Woodbine is thriving in our garden. The sense of connection with this plant of the past and the present is satisfying.

Carol Mellinger
February 27, 2015