Common Name: Tatarian honeysuckle
Scientific name: Lonicera tatarica
Identification: Tatarian honeysuckle is a multi-stemmed perennial shrub that grows up to 12’ tall and up to 10’ across. The branches are upright and arching with light brown bark, which is often shaggy and peeling in vertical strips on older plants. The mature stems have hollow centers (no pith). The leaves of Tatarian honeysuckle are opposite, hairless on both sides, and blue-green in color. The leaves are 1½ – 2½” long and 1 – 1½” wide and are spade shaped, with a rounded or slightly heart-shaped base, bluntly pointed tip and smooth edges. Tubular flowers up to 1” in length grow in pairs at the leaf axils in spring. Flowers are light to dark pink or reddish in color. Fruits are about ¼” in diameter, spherical, and grow in pairs at the leaf axils. Fruits are borne on stems up to 1” and paired fruits are sometimes fused together. Fruits ripen in late summer and are usually red, but can be orange or yellow. (Dirr 2008, Hilty 2017)
Look-a-likes: The blue-green hairless spade-shaped leaves, darker pink flowers, and longer stemmed fruits are the best way to differentiate Tatarian honeysuckle from the invasive L. maackii, L. tatarica and L. x bella (Hilty 2017). There are some shrubs in the Lonicera genus that are native to the Great Lakes basin, but most are much smaller plants than Tatarian honeysuckle. L. canadensis, L. oblongifolia and L. villosa are all less than 6’ tall at maturity with narrower, more oval-shaped leaves. L. involucrata can grow up to 10’ tall, but its leaves are hairy on the underside whereas the leaves of Tatarian honeysuckle are hairless. Diervilla lonicera, a native plant with the common name bush honeysuckle is a much smaller shrub than Tatarian honeysuckle (less than 5’ tall), and the leaves are toothed.
Tatarian honeysuckle is reported frequently throughout the Great Lakes Basin. It is reported most often in northern Michigan and Wisconsin and in the New York portion of the Basin. This species is common throughout the northern half of the U.S. and in southern Ontario.
Additional invasive species distribution data for specific Great Lakes jurisdictions is available via:
Most Tatarian honeysuckle fruits fall close to the parent plant, leading to thicket-like growth. However, the seeds of Tatarian honeysuckle can be spread over long distances by birds and wildlife.
Tatarian honeysuckle’s wide adaptability to shade and to a variety of soils enables it to invade many different habitats. It can be found in savannahs, open woodlands, forest edges, floodplain forests, old pastures and fields, and transport and utility rights-of-way. It thrives in disturbed sites, and is frequently a problem in urban parks, bike trails, and forest preserves. However, it can also invade relatively high-quality woodlands (Hilty 2017).
Once Tatarian honeysuckle is introduced to a habitat it can spread very quickly due to a number of competitive advantages. It produces leaves 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. Research has demonstrated that forests with understories dominated by Tatarian honeysuckle have significantly less cover and diversity of native herbs, and significantly fewer sapling trees in the smallest size class than comparable uninvaded sites (Woods 1993).
Native to Eastern Europe, Tatarian honeysuckle was imported and grown as an ornamental plant in North America starting in the mid-1700s. It became popular as a garden hedge due to its prolific flower production, and it is the only invasive bush honeysuckle for which several commercial cultivated varieties have been developed. Today Tatarian honeysuckle’s invasiveness is broadly recognized and many states have banned its sale, though a few nurseries still carry cultivars.
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)
|Tall shrub – good for screening||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)
|Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)
|Weigela (Weigela florida)||✔b||✔||~|
a Fruits grow on female plants. At least one male plant is required for pollination and fruiting.
b Size varies by cultivar
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 Tatarian 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. Tatarian 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 often leads to a flush of germination of honeysuckle seeds the following year (Munger 2005). Tatarian 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 Tatarian 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 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 Tatarian honeysuckle:
- Dirr, MA. 1998. Lonicera tatarica. In: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Fifth Edition. Champlain, IL: Stipes Publishing. 585-586.
- Hilty, J. 2017. Tatarian honeysuckle In: Illinois Wildflowers. 6/18/2019.
- Munger, GT. 2005. Lonicera sp. In: Fire Effects Information System (Online). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Available: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/lonspp/all.html, 6/19/2019.
- Woods, KD. 1993. Effects of invasion by Lonicera tatarica on herbs and tree seedlings in four New England Forests. The American Midland Naturalist. 130(1): 62-74.
Photo: Ohio State Weed Lab, The Ohio State University, via bugwood.org