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What is Leycesteria?

O. Parker
O. Parker

Leycesteria formosa is the scientific name for Himalayan honeysuckle. It is a single genus of plant in the family Caprifoliaceae. Other plants that share the common name honeysuckle are also part of the family Caprifoliaceae but are in the large plant genus Lonicera. Himalayan honeysuckle is a flowering shrub native to the Himalayas and East Asia.

Leycesteria formosa grows 8 feet (about 2.5 meters) tall. In its natural habitat, leycesteria grows in shaded forests and scrublands near creeks and riverbeds. Seeds are dispersed both by water and by birds and animals that feed on the ripe fruit. In areas where it is introduced, Himalayan honeysuckle can be highly invasive.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The fragrant flowers bloom in spring and summer, and the fruits develop in mid to late fall. The individual flowers are a little less than 1 inch (about 2 cm) long and form drooping clusters that are 4 inches (about 10 cm) long. The fruits are edible with a sweet taste reminiscent of burnt sugar.

Leycesteria is a shrub that can withstand high wind areas and urban pollution, making it a good garden shrub for areas with difficult growing conditions. When allowed to grow at will, the stalks create a thicket-like environment that attracts nesting birds. The flowers attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and other beneficial pollinators to the garden.

The Himalayan honeysuckle is hardy in areas where winter temperatures drop below 6 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius). The branches will die back to the ground when exposed to prolonged periods of severe cold. In the spring, new shoots will emerge. Dead braches should be cut back to the ground in the late winter to stimulate new growth.

In mild climates where the stalks remain green all year, leycesteria should be pruned in the spring as the first buds are beginning to form. The stalks should be cut back to the desired shape and size. This hardy garden shrub can withstand heavy pruning.

Seeds are collected in the late fall and sown in a cold frame. The seeds will germinate during the winter and emerge in the spring. Seedlings are best grown in a greenhouse or on a covered porch for the first year and transplanted outdoors in the spring of the following year. Stem cuttings also root easily; the cuttings should be taken in the summer and rooted in a cold frame. Rooted cuttings are ready to plant outside the following spring.

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