Winter Honeysuckle,
Lonicera fragrantissima

By Dr. William C. Welch
Professor and Landscape Horticulturist
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Lonicera fragrantissima is no newcomer to Texas gardens. It can be found growing unattended in old cemeteries and homesites where few other ornamental plants survive. The two most-often used common names are winter honeysuckle and standing honeysuckle, both of which provide useful insight into the landscape character of the plant. Robert Fortune, the great plant explorer from Scotland, found L. fragrantissima in China and introduced it to Europe in 1845. Soon thereafter, it appeared in American gardens.

The flowers are small and creamy white. They appear during midwinter and, although not outstanding in appearance, are highly fragrant. Foliage is rounded and bluish-green in color. In all but far South Texas, L. fragrantissima is deciduous, and the flowers occur on bare branches. It is unusually well-adapted, and can be found in far North as well as South Texas. Any good garden soil is sufficient, with quality specimens being found in either moderately alkaline or acid soils.

Maximum height is about 8 feet with an arching form to the branches. Red fruit in spring will often follow the winter flowers. Landscape uses include specimens, background plantings, or hedges. Winter honeysuckle is very cold- and drought-tolerant. Propagation is from seed, cutting, or division of older clumps.

Availability on a national scale is fairly good. L. fragrantissima is often sold as a packaged deciduous shrub during winter. Although not a spectacular plant, the form is nice. Its winter flowers and fragrance are welcome, and its hardy character is a real asset. Early Texans often placed a specimen of winter honeysuckle near a frequently-used gate to the garden so that the fragrance and flowers could be easily enjoyed. Stems are also nice to cut and bring into the home where partially-open buds continue to open. Like many of the plants popular in the last century, L. fragrantissima is enjoying a renewal of popularity. Few plants will thrive in Texas gardens with less attention.