Thursday, 9 July 2009

New Plant Finds - Part 2

Some Alien Honeysuckles

Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica)

Early in the spring of last year I was looking at the Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) which climbs up the wire fences of the old sewage works compounds at the north western end of Chorlton Ees. I noticed something odd. Some of the plants did not appear to be climbing the fences but were exhibiting a more shrub-like habit. As the season advanced both the climbing plants and the shrubs developed very similar leaves but they were fairly obviously different species. In May the shrubs flowered and then it became obvious that they weren’t our native species (i.e. L. periclymenum).

L. periclynemum is our only native species of Honeysuckle, although there is another species which is ‘possibly’ native. This latter species is L. xylosteum - Fly Honeysuckle, which is a rather uncommon plant of southern England. Both of these are climbers and not shrubs. The new plant on Chorlton Ees had rather small (even rather insignificant), pink flowers. It was not particularly easy to identify but eventually I was able to name it as L. tartarica - Tartarian Honeysuckle (top photograph). It is a rather obscure garden escape, originally from southern Russia. The specific epithet commemorates the Tartars – a major ethnic group in southern Russia and the Ukraine. It appears to have been introduced into British Gardens 70 or 80 years ago but may only now be spreading. I think that it’s almost certainly bird-seeded – the birds which find the fruits of L. periclynemum palatable probably also take the fruits of L. tartarica (which is why I found the two species together on Chorlton Ees). I thought for a while that I might have a new record for Greater Manchester but it turns out that it has been found around here before. For example, a few years ago local botanists Priscilla Tolfree and Audrey Locksley found it by the Fallowfield Loop cycle path.

I recently discovered an odd fact about this plant on the Internet (you couldn’t make this up!). Apparently, in Canada, twigs of Tartarian Honeysuckle are sold as cat toys because they contain a chemical called, nepetalactone – the same chemical that is found in the plant Catnip. As anyone who has ever owned a cat will know, Catnip is extremely attractive to cats and drives them wild!

Henry’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera henryi)

By the side of the Fallowfield Loop, less than half a mile east of Princess Parkway, a vigorous, evergreen climber smothers the bank side vegetation and trees. There is a similar patch of it in the midst of the willow carr at Fletcher Moss park in Didsbury. I was convinced that both of these patches were representatives of the species, Lonicera henryi – Henry’s Honeysuckle (middle photograph), another garden escape, originally from China. I needed to see the flowers to be sure but last year failed to do so. This year I managed to creep up on the Fallowfield Loop patch at exactly the right time (mid-June) and caught it in full flower, and it proved to be what I thought it was.

The name commemorates the Irish botanist, Augustine Henry (1857 – 1930). From 1880 Henry was employed for 20 years by the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service. This post seems to have allowed him plenty of time for botanising as he collected widely in Hubei, Sichuan, Taiwan and Yunnan and managed to send around 150, 000 dried specimens to Kew. At least some of the specimens that he collected also ended up in Manchester Museum Herbarium. I’m not sure whether he discovered or even collected this particular species. He certainly didn’t name it (it is not the ‘done thing’ to name a species after oneself!). It was given the name by the eminent botanist, William Hemsley who, while working at Kew, compiled an important catalogue of Chinese plants.

By an extraordinary coincidence, while studying this plant and the career of Augustine Henry, I discovered that his great, great nephew lives just around the corner from me in Chorltonville!

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

I’ve only ever found this plant (bottom photograph) in one place – along the old railway line from Chorlton to Old Trafford (soon to be part of the Metrolink tram network). It has white flowers which turn yellow as they age. In shape they are not unlike those of our native Honeysuckle. It’s a native of Asia, particularly Japan, Korea, north and east China and Taiwan.
In China it’s an ingredient in herbal medicines and is said to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

In North America it’s a major invasive species. It’s classified as a ‘noxious weed’ in Illinois and Virginia and is banned in New Hampshire.

I would suggest that all three of these species have the potential to become major pests in the UK as well. On the other hand they might just blend in with the native flora and add to local biodiversity or they might just fade away un-noticed. It all seems to be completely unpredictable.

So the alien Honeysuckles might be coming! Keep watching the skies? No, keep watching the hedgerows ... doo, doo, doo-doo, doo, doo, doo-doo!

Dave Bishop, July 2009


1. ‘Shrubs’ by Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix, Pan Books, 1989

2. ‘Travels in China: A Plantsman’s Paradise’ by Roy Lancaster, Antique Collectors’ Club, 1989

3. Wikipedia Article of Japanese Honeysuckle: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Honeysuckle

No comments: