University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
ALTERNATIVES TO BUSH HONEYSUCKLES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
You should avoid planting honeysuckle
shrubs in landscapes as birds spread their seeds to natural areas where they
become invasive. For this reason, some states
now prohibit their sale. There are many
good alternatives to plant instead of honeysuckles, or to replace existing ones
in landscapes. These include spicebush,
inkberry, shrub dogwoods, red chokecherry, winterberry, serviceberry, and
Bush honeysuckles are upright, deciduous
(lose their leaves in winter) shrubs that range from 6 to 15 feet tall. Pairs of flowers are borne along stems in
leaf axils in late spring to early summer, where the red to orange fruits are
produced. Seeds of these shrubs are spread by birds into natural areas which
they become invasive, crowding out native plants. There they form a dense shrub thicket that
competes with native plants for light, water, and nutrients crowding many
out. The fruits of these honeysuckles
don’t supply the high fat, nutrient rich food for migrating birds that are
supplied by many native plant species.
There are many species of exotic or
introduced, non-native bush honeysuckles with common examples being showy (Lonicera
bella), Japanese (L. japonica), Morrow’s (L. morrowii),
Tatarian (L. tatarica), and the hybrid Bell’s (L. morrowii x tatarica). These cross readily, producing a host of
seedlings with unknown parents. They can
be confused with the native, non-invasive bush honeysuckles. A main difference is that older stems of the
are usually hollow, while the older stems of native species are usually solid.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
forms a neat, spreading mound 6 to 10 feet high and slightly wider.
The stems smell spicy when crushed. This native plant adapts to wet or
and to sun or shade. Female plants have
scarlet berry-like fruit. Unfortunately,
it may only be hardy to warmer areas (USDA zone 5).
Inkberry (Ilex glabra) too
usually is not hardy in the coldest areas (USDA zone 5 and above).
This native to swamps of eastern North America prefers moist, acidic
soils, either in sun
or shade. It has a rounded habit about 5
to 7 feet high and side. It has black
fruit on female plants in winter. The
small, evergreen leaves can be injured if exposed to winter sun and
Two native dogwood shrubs are hardy
to the coldest areas (USDA zone 3) in either sun or partial shade. The silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) gets
6 to 8 feet high and wide, while the gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) gets
8 to 10 feet high and at least this wide.
Both have upright, oval habits.
Yellow-white flowers on the silky dogwood produce bluish fruits
attractive to birds. Fragrant flowers on
the gray dogwood in June produce white fruit on the red stems in fall. Unless
pruned, the gray dogwood can produce wide colonies of stems.
Red Chokeberry (Aronia
arbutifolia) is a slow grower, eventually reaching 6 to 10 feet high, and
half that wide. This native plant has an
open and upright habit in landscapes, but with suckers will from a broad
mound. Once established, this plant will
The species of red chokeberry has red to
reddish purple leaves in fall, but the cultivar ‘Brilliantissima’ has scarlet
fall color. Clusters of white flowers in
spring produce red fruit in the
fall. This plant will tolerate occasionally wet
soils, and is hardy in most of the north (USDA zone 4 and warmer). A couple choice and related cultivars to
consider are the lower ‘Autumn Magic’ with black fruit, and ‘Viking’ with
purple fruits high in vitamins.
There are many cultivars of our
native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) to choose from. The dense, twiggy
growth of this deciduous holly provides cover for birds by summer, and fruit
for them in winter. There is a
difference in fruit color retention, usually bright red, among cultivars. Best in trials at the University of Vermont
were ‘Jolly Red’, ‘Maryland Beauty’, ‘Winter Red’, and the hybrid
‘Sparkleberry’. Keep in mind if planting
these that you’ll need a male plant or two for pollination. The species of winterberry is often seen in
natural areas in wet soils, although this plant tolerates dry soils as well,
only grows less quickly there. Most are
hardy to colder areas (USDA zone 4), the hybrids being a zone less hardy.
There are several native species of
serviceberry that form large shrubs, or multi-stem small trees. The Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier
laevis) is perhaps the most commonly found in our area. Reaching 15 to 25 feet high, and half that
wide, it has an upright and open habit.
It grows well in sun or shade, and is quite hardy (USDA zone 3). The attractive white spring flowers are
followed in summer by edible black fruits, then in fall by attractive red to
There are several native viburnums
you could use as alternatives to bush honeysuckles, but keep in mind species
have varying susceptibility to a new pest, the Viburnum leaf beetle. Witherod (V. cassinoides) is less
susceptible, reaching 8 to 10 feet high and wide. White flowers lead to fruit that start green,
then change to red before black. The
orange-red fall leaves are attractive.
Witherod is quite hardy in wide-ranging light and soil conditions.
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