Amur Honeysuckle Tree 101 – Identification and Control


The Amur Honeysuckle Tree is a fast growing, flowering shrub that has become invasive and established in roughly half of the United States and Canada.  Growing upwards 25-30′ tall by 20′ wide with a thick canopy, it is highly adaptable to temperate climates.  Once established this invasive species reeks havoc on any North American Ecosystem.

Originally from Eastern Asia, in the late 1800’s Amur Honeysuckle Tree was brought to the United States for use as an ornamental. It took little time to escape gardens and spread into the wild, shading and out-competing native species. It’s exceptionally fast growth rate and long leaf-bearing period smothers native seedlings in shade, killing them and leaving them to deer predation.

My great wall of Amur Honeysuckle. Ugh.

Amur Honeysuckle is Invasive – The Ecological Impact

Our feathered friends and other mammals will consume the berries, and spread them in their fecal matter far and wide as they roam.  This plant can rapidly colonize disturbed areas, creating a thick canopy that will block out the sun for any other native plants. 

Amur Honeysuckle can form single monocultures, meaning no other trees/shrubs/plants will be present.  Garlic Mustard (another invasive species) is about the only other plant I’ve seen that can grow underneath it.  In fact, if Garlic Mustard is also present you can almost have a situation where the land is nearly 100% covered with non-native plants. 

amur honeysuckle in bloom

Amur Honeysuckle will out-grow and out compete almost all native plants.  Therefore I’ve been battling this plant for several years since relocating, and I still have years worth of plants that I need to kill.

It holds leaves longer than any other plant

That is one of the biggest problems with this plant.  Amur Honeysuckle trees will leaf out before any other plant/tree in the Spring, creating it’s sunlight-stealing canopy.  So this plant prevents woodland ephemeral plants from getting any sunlight, such as Virginia Blue Bells, Spring Beauty, or Wild Violets.  These woodland wildflowers bloom so early because that is the only time they receive sunlight, before the native trees leaf out.  So these shade perennial wildflowers miss their short window of sunlight because of this invasive thug.

Bush Honeysuckle Facts

Amur Honeysuckle Scientific Name

Lonicera maackii is the scientific name of Amur Honeysuckle

Identification of Amur Honeysuckle

The overall shape of a mature plant is like a multi-trunk umbrella.  The trunk will rise, but the branches will arc down under the weight of the wood/leaves and to get maximum sunlight.

amur honeysuckle from below Lonicera maackii
No sunlight can penetrate this specimen. It arcs to the South, taking all available sunlight.

Trunk / Stem

The trunks of this plant can be single or multi-trunked.  There will be many branches, and at maturitiy those branches will produce branches.  So you have trunk to branch to branch to branch too – ahhh!  The branches of Amur Honeysuckle are hollow.

amur honeysuckle branches
The tangled web of branches is maddening.

These branches are FAST growing.  If you break off most of a branch, but leave some left, it can grow a new 3′ long branch in six weeks.  The growth rate is crazy.

The bark has veins/ridges that run parallel to the trunk.  The branches that hold leaves will be hollow in the middle.  There are native honeysuckles, but they do not have hollow stems.  So you can use this information to better confirm identification.

amur honeysuckle branch stem
The hollow stem is great for identifying Amur Honeysuckle

Leaves

The leaves can be about 3″ long, and shaped like a long tear-drop.  They are opposite and will be in a perfect symmetrical pattern along most of the stem.

This image shows the top leaves on the left, and the underside of the leaves on the right.
Lonicera maackii leaves

However, if you are trying to identify this plant in the Spring, you can tell it is Bush Honeysuckle by a few characteristics.  Bush Honeysuckle will leaf out before almost any other species.  That, along with hollow stems is almost enough to identify it.  I snapped a few pictures to help with the leaf identification in early Spring.  Below are a few photos I took of Bush Honeysuckle leaves in Spring, during their emergence from winter dormancy.  I hope you find it helpful!

Lonicera maackii Spring
bush honeysuckle spring emergence

Flower

amur honeysuckle flower

The flower of Amur Honeysuckle are tubular and approximately 1″ long.  There will be several per origin of leaves.  They will first be white and then become yellow.  Eventually they fall off, and a small cluster of 1-4 berries will form.  The berries are somewhat poisonous to humans and should not be consumed.

 

Amur Honeysuckle Berries

The berries of Amur Honeysuckle are poisonous to humans.  Eating them can cause rapid heartbeat, vomiting, diarrhea and should not be consumed.

Root

The roots are taproots that will be reddish orange in color.  They spread out from a central root that is generally white.

Growing Conditions

This plant can grow in full sun or full shade.  It can tolerate wet conditions, such as along stream banks or ponds.  Also, it can tolerate drought conditions.  And finally, it can grow in fertile loam, clay, almost anywhere.

Maintenance

Don’t maintain it – kill it.

How to Establish

Don’t grow this plant.

Fauna

The flowers are pollinated by bees and hummingbirds.  Being able to draw hummingbirds is about the only positive thing I can say about this plant.  I have often seen deer browse the foliage, but apparently it doesn’t taste that good to them because they never completely defoliate the plant (like the often do with saplings of oak, apple, maple).

Pests and diseases

I have never seen any stress from disease on this plant.  It just seems to power through and thrive anywhere it can steal a bit of sunlight.

How to Control and get rid of Amur Honeysuckle Trees

Control for young Amur Honeysuckle Treesaplings

Young saplings that are only 3′ tall (1 m) or less can be pulled out of the ground if the soil is moist.  Loosening the soil a bit with a shovel or digging bar also helps.  That is the easiest and quickest way to stop or stall an infestation.  The method for mature plants will also work, but pulling is much less harmful.

Control for mature, full grown Amur Honeysuckle

You should really just  go to our guide that details the best way to kill mature stands of Bush Honeysuckle.

I’ve seen other references that suggest using Glyphosate (round up) to control Amur Honeysuckle.  With all the recent news linking too much Glyphosate to cancer, I will give you an alternative that is effective and doesn’t involve spraying.

To kill a mature Amur Honeysuckle Tree, what I do is cut it off at the base and apply brush killer.  Depending on the size, this could involve removing many branches, brush clearing, etc.  But once you get to the main trunk, you just cut it off as low as you can.  I have used chain saws or hand saws for this.  The result is the same, but one just requires a bit more effort.

Apply Brush Killer

Once you have the bare trunk, apply concentrate brush killer directly to the trunk.  Do this within 30 minutes of cutting it so that the chemical is most effective.  The product I use is called BioAdvanced Brush Killer.  It is usually on sale at Amazon for less than $20, you can find a direct link on our recommended products page. 

Depending on how quick you apply the brush killer concentrate, as well as the size of the plant you may have to recut and reapply in the Spring.  But this stuff works.  Below are some pics of stumps I killed the previous Spring.

I made a short youtube video on how I do this that you can watch below (it’s less than 90 seconds).

Amur Honeysuckle Quick Reference Table

Amur Honeysuckle Reference Table
Common NameAmur Honeysuckle, Japanese Bush Honeysuckle
Scientific nameLonicera maackii
Bloom TimeEarly Summer
Bloom Duration2-weeks
ColorWhite
Bloom Size½” flowers along the leaf producing branches
CharacteristicsA single flower at each apex of leaves
Height15-30’ (5-10 m)
Spacing/Spread15-20’ (5-7 m)
Light RequirementsFull sun to full shade
Soil TypesAlmost any soil type
MoistureMoist, Medium, Dry
MaintenanceDon’t maintain it – kill it
Typical UseDriving me insane.  Killing off all native plants underneath it
Fauna AssociationsDeer will browse the foliage, but not enough to kill it.  Birds eat the berries and then spread the seeds everywhere
Larval HostNone – it isn’t native to North America
Sowing DepthDon’t sow them
StratificationBoil seeds for 30 minutes.  They should be dead after that
Hardiness RangeUSDA Zones 3-8
NotesGrowitbuildit.com

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Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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