Common Name: Morrow’s honeysuckle
Scientific name: Lonicera morrowii
Identification: Morrow’s honeysuckle is a multi-stemmed perennial shrub that grows up to 8’ tall and up to 10’ across. The branches are upright and arching with light brown bark, which develops shallow vertical fissures with age. The mature stems have hollow centers (no pith). New twigs are hairy. Morrow’s honeysuckle leaves are opposite, grey-green and hairy early in the growing season, turning bright green and losing the hair on the top surface later in the summer. The leaves are 1-2½” long and ½ – 1¼” wide and are oblong in shape with a wide, sharp tip and smooth edges. White and sometimes pink-tinged, tubular flowers ¾” in length grow in pairs at the leaf axils in spring. The flower stems are hairy. Flowers turn yellow soon after blooming. Fruits are about ¼” in diameter, spherical, and grow in pairs at the leaf axils. The fruits ripen in mid-summer and fall off the plants soon thereafter. The fruits are usually red, but can be orange or yellow. (Dirr 1998, Hilty 2017)
Look-alikes: The densely hairy leaf undersides and smoother mature bark can be used to differentiate Morrow’s honeysuckle from the invasive L. maackii, L. tatarica and L. x bella. The most reliable way to differentiate Morrow’s honeysuckle from native species is to observe the pith (inner wood) on older growth. Morrow’s honeysuckle is hollow (pith is absent), while the native species (L. canadensis, L. oblongifolia, L. villosa, L. involucrata, Diervilla lonicera) have solid, white pith (Sarver et al. 2008).
Morrow’s honeysuckle is reported occasionally to frequently throughout the Great Lakes region. It is frequent along the Wisconsin/Michigan border, near Grand Traverse, Michigan, and in the New York portion of the Basin. Nationally, this species is common in the Great Lakes region, the Mid-Atlantic and New England, but has also been reported in the Rocky Mountain region.
Additional invasive species distribution data for specific Great Lakes jurisdictions is available via:
Most of Morrow’s honeysuckle’s fruits fall close to the parent plant, leading to thicket-like growth. However, seeds can be spread over long distances by birds and wildlife.
Morrow’s honeysuckle invades open woodlands, forest edges, floodplain forests, old pastures and fields, and transport and utility rights-of-way.
Once Morrow’s honeysuckle is introduced to a habitat it can spread very quickly due to a number of competitive advantages. It produces leaves very early in the spring and loses its leaves late in the fall, effectively extending its growing season. It also grows quickly to gain access to light, which in turn blocks light from other species. Morrow’s honeysuckle often dominates disturbed habitats and forest edge areas, reducing the diversity of native shrubs and forbs and reducing tree recruitment. Honeysuckle dominance affects community structure and ecosystem function. For example, songbirds that would normally build nests in native understory trees will instead locate their nests in Morrow’s honeysuckle, leaving them more vulnerable to predation (McChesney and Anderson 2015).
Native to Japan, Morrow’s honeysuckle was imported and grown as an ornamental plant in North America starting in the late 1800s. It became popular both as a garden plant and as a planting for erosion control. Today, this species’ invasiveness is broadly recognized, many states have banned its sale, and it is no longer generally available from nurseries.
Please see our Landscape Alternatives landing page for more information about how the WIGL Collaborative selected alternatives for each species.
|Alternatives for Bush Honeysuckles
Common name (Latin name)
|Dense shrub – good for hedging||Attractive, fragrant flowers||Fruit attracts birds||Shade tolerant|
|Summersweet, sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii)||✔||~||✔||~|
|Winterberry holly (Ilex verticilata)
‘Winter Red’ paired with ‘Southern Gentleman’
|Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)||✔||✔a||✔|
|Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)||✔||✔||✔||~|
|American black elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, Sambucus nigra var. canadensis)||✔||✔||✔||~|
|American red elderberry (Sambucus pubens, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens)||✔||✔||✔||~|
|Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)||✔||~||✔||~|
|Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)||✔||✔||✔|
|Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus)
|Seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides)||✔||~|
|Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
|Lacebush (Stephanandra incisa)
|Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)
|Weigela (Weigela florida)||✔||✔||~|
a Fruits grow on female plants. At least one male plant is required for pollination and fruiting.
Green = native to part of the Great Lakes Basin
Yellow = native to the United States but not to the Basin
Blue = not native but not invasive
~ = trait is somewhat present but not as pronounced as in check-marked examples
The following is a brief overview of management techniques shown to be effective on Morrow’s honeysuckle. For more detailed information on how to use these techniques, visit our Management and Control page. For local assistance managing woody invasive species, please get in touch with a cooperative invasive species management group or a university extension program.
Timing and spread concerns: Whenever possible, individual plants should be controlled before they are able to fruit in order to prevent spread. If control is undertaken after plants have fruited, it is best not to remove the plants from the site to avoid spreading seed.
Physical control: Small plants are easily hand-pulled from moist soil; larger plants can be dug or pulled using equipment. Morrow’s honeysuckle has relatively shallow roots compared to other invasive woody plants, even when the above-ground plant is large. Thus it is sometimes possible to successfully remove mature honeysuckle using a weed wrench or a digging tool. A caveat is that pulling mature plants in a dense infestation causes a significant amount of soil disturbance, which can lead to a flush of germination of honeysuckle seeds the following year (Munger 2005). Morrow’s honeysuckle regrows vigorously from cut stems and stumps after injury, so methods that top-kill plants, such as prescribed fire, grazing, and stem cutting, are unlikely to provide effective long-term control (Munger 2005).
Chemical control and combined approaches: Foliar spray is the most feasible method for a large, dense infestation, and is effective anytime plants are actively growing and fully leafed out. Because Morrow’s honeysuckle retains leaves later than almost all native deciduous plants, late fall is the ideal time to conduct foliar application to reduce off-target impacts. Foliar application in spring following flowering is also effective, but risks off-target damage to spring wildflowers where those are present. Foliar application can be done as a stand-alone practice or can be used as a follow-up to to top-killing physical control methods by applying herbicide to regrowth. Cut stump and basal bark herbicide treatments are effective and can be applied during most of the year, avoiding early spring. In all cases, herbicide should be selected carefully based on site conditions, and label directions read and followed carefully.
With any treatment it will be necessary to monitor for and treat regrowth in subsequent years. Managers should expect treatment of dense honeysuckle infestations to be a long-term commitment.
Resources on management of Morrow’s honeysuckle:
- Dirr, MA. 1998. Lonicera morrowii. In: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Fifth Edition. Champlain, IL: Stipes Publishing. 581.
- Hilty, J. 2017. Morrow’s honeysuckle In: Illinois Wildflowers. 6/18/2019.
- McChesney, HM and JT Anderson. 2015. Reproductive success of field sparrows (Spizella pusilla) in response to invasive Morrow’s honeysuckle: does Morrow’s honeysuckle promote population sinks? The Wilson Journal of Ornathology. 127(2): 222-232.
- Midwest Invasive Plant Network. Invasive Plant Control Database. https://mipncontroldatabase.wisc.edu/search?name=Lonicera_morrowii, 6/19/2019.
- Munger, GT. 2005. Lonicera spp. In: Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. 6/19/2019.
- Sarver, M, Treher, A, Wilson, L, Naczi, R and FB Kuehn. 2008. Invasive bush honeysuckles and Native bush honeysuckles. In: Mistaken Identity? Invasive Plants and Their Native Look-alikes. Delaware Department of Agriculture. 14-15.
Photo: Leslie Mehrhoff, UConn, via bugwood.org