Common Name: Showy fly honeysuckle, Bell’s honeysuckle
Scientific name: Lonicera x bella
Identification: Showy fly honeysuckle is a hybrid between Morrow’s honeysuckle (L. morrowii) and Tatarian honeysuckle (L. tatarica) and shares characteristics of both species. Its appearance can also vary between individuals. It is a multi-stemmed perennial shrub that grows up to 12’ tall and equally as wide. The branches are arching, giving the shrub a rounded appearance and have light brown bark, which is often shaggy and peeling on older plants. New stems are sparsely hairy. The mature stems of invasive bush honeysuckles have hollow centers (no pith). The leaves are similar to those of Morrow’s honeysuckle and are opposite, bright green and hairless on the top surface, and are pale green and sparsely hairy on the bottom. The leaves are 1 – 2½” long and ½ – 1¼” wide and are oblong in shape with a wide, sharp tip and smooth edges. Pink or occasionally white tubular flowers up to 1” in length grow in pairs at the leaf axils in spring. Flowers turn yellow soon after blooming. Fruit are about ¼” diameter globes that grow in pairs at the leaf axils, which ripen in mid-summer and persist on the plant into the fall. The fruits are usually red, but can be orange or yellow. (Dirr 1998, Hilty 2017)
Look-alikes: Differentiating the hybrid from either of its parent species is extremely challenging and may not be possible with a high degree of accuracy without genetic testing (Munger 2005). The leaf undersides are generally less densely hairy than those of Morrow’s honeysuckle, while the leaf undersides of Tatarian honeysuckle are hairless. There are some shrubs in the Lonicera genus that are native to the Great Lakes Basin, but most are much smaller plants that showy fly honeysuckle. The most reliable way to differentiate showy fly honeysuckle from natives is to observe the pith (inner wood) on older growth. Showy fly honeysuckle is hollow (pith is absent), while the all native species (L. canadensis, L. oblongifolia, L. villosa, L. involucrata, Diervilla lonicera) have solid, white pith (Sarver et al. 2008).
Showy fly honeysuckle is reported throughout the Great Lakes Basin, with the highest density of reports coming from northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Reporting is likely complicated by the difficulty of differentiating this hybrid from its parent species. It can be assumed that showy fly honeysuckle will occur to some degree where the invasive ranges of its parent species overlap in the Midwest, Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic U.S.
Additional invasive species distribution data for specific Great Lakes jurisdictions is available via:
Most of showy fly 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. Some research conducted in Wisconsin indicated that showy fly honeysuckle can spread locally by root sprouting (suckering) and forming new roots where branch tips touch the ground (layering) (Munger 2005).
Showy fly honeysuckle invades open woodlands, forest edges, floodplain forests, wetland edges, old pastures and fields, and transport and utility rights-of-way.
Once showy fly 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. Due to these advantages, showy fly honeysuckle can dominate forest understories, reducing the diversity of native shrubs and forbs and reducing tree recruitment.
Showy fly honeysuckle was first bred in the late 1800s at a European botanic garden. Showy fly honeysuckle is generally considered to be less attractive than Tatarian honeysuckle by plant breeders and it has not achieved commercial popularity (Dirr 1998). It is not generally available from nurseries, and its invasive spread is primarily due to spontaneous crossing between its parent species outside of cultivation.
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)
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 showy fly 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. Showy fly 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). Also, hand removal may not be feasible on plants that demonstrate root suckering or layering. Showy fly 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 showy fly 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 showy fly honeysuckle:
- Dirr, MA. 1998. Lonicera x bella. In: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Fifth Edition. Champlain, IL: Stipes Publishing. 576.
- Hilty, J. 2017. Showy honeysuckle In: Illinois Wildflowers. 6/18/2019.
- 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: Joseph Berger via bugwood.org