Edible Honeysuckle

When we think of honeysuckle, we tend to think about richly colored, fragrant flowers on beautiful vines like 'Scentsation' (Lonicera periclymenum), which blooms all summer long and perfumes the air with a fragrance better than anything found in a bottle.  

If you live in the Eastern United States, you most likely think of Lonicera japonica, the weedy, tenacious Japanese honeysuckle vine that can be found in just about every fence row. 

But who would have ever thought of honeysuckle as an edible fruit crop? Not me, that is, until I discovered sweetberry honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea, when visiting nurseries in Eastern Europe. Also known as the blue or edible honeysuckle, this little-known deciduous shrub is native to the colder, northern regions of Europe, Asia and even North America. Finding cultivated varieties in the former Eastern Bloc was not a total surprise: these countries had limited access to citrus and vitamin C during the Cold War, and as a result, they selected, bred, and developed a range of hardy fruit with high vitamin content. Mostly unfamiliar to Westerners, they grew and consumed berries such as Aronia (choke berry), Hippophae, (sea berry) and our newest discovery Lonicera caerulea, all of which are "superfruits" because of their extremely high vitamin and antioxidant content.

Lonicera caerulea produces edible fruit that looks like an elongated blueberry. 

After leaning about Lonicera caerulea and its potential, we set out to acquire as many cultivars as possible. We discovered One Green World, a small mail order nursery that offered an array of unusual fruit plants including Lonicera, which they marketed under the name "honey berries." I also met Dr. Bob Bors from the University of Saskatchewan who had an edible Lonicera breeding program, and we acquired his selections too. We purchased dried fruit, juice and jam, all of which were incredibly delicious, with a flavor best described as a tangy combination of raspberry, blueberry and raisins. Still later on a trip to Hokkaido, Japan, we were served ice cream with a haskap sauce (a type of Lonicera caerulea) that was pretty much the best food that has ever hit my taste buds. 

Haskap sauce on ice cream
It was clear that this little known honeysuckle shrub had incredible potential. First off, honeysuckles are very easy to grow. Anyone can grow this shrub. Unlike blueberry plants, it does not require any special soil or pH to grow successfully. Unlike grapes, the fruit skin dissolves in your mouth unnoticed. The fruit ripens in early summer, about the same time as strawberries, but is easy to pick without bending over. Unlike blackberries and raspberries, the plants have no thorns, and the seeds are so small you don't even notice them. On the downside, honeysuckle fruit is typically too soft to ship fresh to supermarkets, and the yields are not as high as you get with commercial blueberry crops. Until recently, the fruit also had a high degree of tartness, making it best reserved for sauces, jams, juices and drying, as opposed to eating fresh. The tartness can be largely eliminated if you understand how to identify ripe fruit: just because the fruit turns blue does not mean it's time to pick it. The fruit is ripe if you can easily remove it from the stem without tugging. If there is resistance, wait until it falls easily into your hand, otherwise you will be very disappointed with the taste.  

There is also a wide range of bitterness and sweetness depending upon the cultivar you grow. The vast majority of the Eastern European cultivars we have tasted tend to be on bitter side and are best suited for processing. Most of these cultivars are derived from Lonicera caerulea var. edulis, Lonicera caerulea var. villosa,  Lonicera caerulea var. pallasii, and Lonicera caerulea var. kamschatica. People in Eastern Europe typically call all these plants and their fruit kamschatica, zhimolost or zimolez. The vast majority of plants we initially acquired were of Eastern European origin.


Framtosel Krekci standing next to his new edible honeysuckle plant.  

What got us really excited about edible honeysuckle was a trip we made to the Czech Republic where we met Framtosel Krekci, a nurseryman and plant breeder who developed a new selection called Sugar Mountain® Blue. Skeptical, yet eager try a new selection, we sampled his fruit and discovered it was the sweetest we had ever tasted. We were so delighted, we worked over his hedge until every single berry was gone. Not only was the fruit sweet, it was also very large. While the typical fruit size ranges from 12 to 15mm in length, his variety had fruit in the 18 to 20mm range.    

Sugar Mountain Blue

My excitement and appreciation for edible honeysuckle reached new levels when I got a phone call from Dr. Maxine Thompson, a retired fruit breeder from Oregon State University. Maxine had been breeding edible honeysuckle for years, but had been working strictly with Japanese haskap, Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx, which is native to 
Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. The advantage of pure Japanese haskap is that the fruit is larger and the plants bloom later. The flowers appear as much as four to six weeks later than Eastern European varieties, making them less susceptible to frost damage, more attractive to pollinators, and better suited to warmer climates. Maxine's extensive fruit breeding experience had paid dividends when it came to haskap: her breeding lines boasted substantial improvements in both fruit size and yields. She takes detailed data, such as brix counts, so that she can maximize sweetness and other desirable attributes. Her haskap breeding program was clearly light years ahead of all others.    
Dr. Maxine Thompson 

Yezberry™ Maxie haskaps are nearly the size and shape of olives

After multiple visits to Maxine's breeding plot and sampling dozens of selections, we chose four of the sweetest and largest fruited plants and named them Yezberry™ haskaps. Yezberry refers to the island of Hokkaido, which was once called Yez or Yezo Island. It was very important to Maxine that we distinguish her breeding lines as pure haskap (Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx) originating from Hokkaido because of their unique qualities, and because, according to Maxine, growers were misleadingly selling Eastern European varieties as haskaps, which they are not.  

Thus far we have introduced four of her haskaps in the Yezberry™ Series™ . The first two are noted for their size and yield and are excellent for commercial and you pick growers Yezberry Maxie  has the largest fruit yet: its berries are olive shaped, with very good sweetness and flavor. Yezberry Solo has large, plump fruit with very good sweetness and flavor, superior yields, and it is apomictic, meaning it will make fruit without cross pollination from another variety. Though Yezberry Solo does not require a pollinator to get fruit, you will get larger fruit and higher yields if you grow another Yezberry haskap in close proximity. The other two 
Yezberry Sugar Pie and Honey Bunch are selected for smaller more manageable plants and higher sugar content so are good for eating fresh so are perfect for you pick and home garden use.         

Yezberry™ Maxie and Yezberry Solo Japanese haskaps

The future for edible honeysuckle is bright. It is very cold hardy and easy to grow. The fruit has higher levels of vitamins C, A, and E than an orange, and three times the antioxidant level of blackberries. New breeding and the introduction of new haskap cultivars have brought us better tasting, sweeter and larger berries and plants with wider adaptability and higher yields. It is the perfect berry plant for growers selling u-pick or at local farmers markets. Best of all, it's just good fun to grow fresh, tasty fruit at home that does not require special care, soil amendments or pesticides. So hopefully, in the near future, when you think about honeysuckle, you'll think about how great it would be to mix some in your yogurt or put them on top of your vanilla ice cream. That's what I'm thinking. Yum.   

Sugar Pie is the sweetest haskap with a Brix of 15.6

Honey Bunch is a compact plant with sweet fruit

Honey Bunch
Sugar Pie
Plant Habit
Spreading & upright
Plant Height meters
Plant Width meters
Growth rate
Very Vigorous
Very vigorous
Moderate -Low
Moderate -Low
Days to Harvest
Harvest Date in OR
Fruit length cm
Fruit width cm
Brix (sugar level)*
Fruit Wt grams - avg
Yield / bush kg - avg
Weeks storage 33-35oF
Dry Weight mg / 100 fruit
Market use
Pre Havest drop
Fruit Bleeding
Any Yezberry
Any Yezberry
Any Yezberry
Any Yezberry
Largest Fruit
Self fertile
sweet and compact
Sweetest Yezberry
Very High Yield

Updated May 29, 2020

Full Speed A Hedge with American Pillar

In all my dealings with plant breeders and nursery people, I  never met anyone who  believed in their new plant as much as John Houser. Certainly every plant breeder feels his or her new invention is the best, but how many would postpone their retirement at age 85 to start up a nursery based on it. Houser did and said, “I’m too old to work hard, too mule-headed to retire.”

You see, John knew in his heart that he had found his “one in a million shot,” when he discovered an unusual branch mutation on an arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) on his property. That mutation was an ultra-fast growing branch sport with a dense, narrow growth habit.  
“This particular arborvitae will withstand extremes of heat, cold, and moisture, making it a candidate for home landscapes, and screening situations in most of the lower forty-eight states.  Other plants commonly used for screening purposes, such as hemlock and pine, have diseases that are depleting their usefulness.  Leland cypress is being attacked by the lethal Cercospora needle blight which is now widespread across the South and East.  The American Pillar Nursery is positioned to fill the demand for a better, disease-resistant replacement plant.”  John Houser
Full Speed A Hedge is perfect for hiding bad views PDQ

In August of 2009, just days after Thuja ‘American Pillar’ was granted U.S. Plant Patent number 20,209,  Houser called to sell me on ‘American Pillar’. At the time, I eschewed arborvitae because one variety, Emerald arborvitae, dominated the market. It was the only cultivar our customers wanted to buy, grow, or sell. Selling a new cultivar would be difficult if not impossible. But John was, well, mule headed. He was not about to take no for an answer. He wore me down; I acquiesced and sent him a trialing license and he sent me 100 trial plants. I soon discovered that  John was right. His plant was very special. With a growth rate of a meter (nearly 40”) a year, ‘American Pillar’ was the fastest arborvitae I had ever seen; much faster than ‘Green Giant’ and narrower too. And when it comes to screen and hedging plants, fast and narrow is what every one wants: growers, landscapers and homeowners. And because of its ‘Hetz Wintergreen’ bloodline, John’s plant was both hardy and heat-tolerant. Most definitely, there was a market for this plant.    

In the meantime, John was ramping up his business, planting, hiring and selling to everyone in the greater Atlanta area. McMansions were being built at a crazy pace and these people wanted fast privacy. Of course, John was more than happy to help.  He developed a software program (AsICit) that landscapers used to show people how an ‘American Pillar’ hedge would look in their yard. 

He took before and after pictures to show everyone how fast his plant grew. And his dogged persistence and old-fashioned work ethic paid off. Growers and landscapers began to discover this super fast growing plant. Today, landscapers are buying every, decent sized plant available. Demand has been incredible.  

Mavis Houser next to an American Pillar Hedge.

But you don't have to be a professional landscaper to have access to this new, fast growing privacy plant. And you don't need to buy large, expensive landscape grade plants to get the same results. A new online retail program called Full Speed A-Hedge offers a tray of (8) 2 Qt sized plants that will quickly make 20 feet of privacy hedge. Plant them at 2 1/2 fee apart and 8 plants = 20 feet of privacy. The beauty of these smaller plants is that they're easy to plant and they establish faster than larger, more expensive plants. Below two photographs of a hedge at my brother's house. He had a neighbor that was, dare I say, a jerk, who put up an ugly, eighty foot long, 5' tall cyclone fence. To hide the fence and the neighbor I gave my brother four trays of the Full Speed A Hedge. In 2 1/2 years, planted 2 1/2 feet apart these little 2 quart plants had hidden the fence. In two years the plants were taller than the fence. In less than four years, you could not longer see the neighbors house or pole barn. Problem solved.  

American Pillar planted as Full Speed A-Hedge plants after two years reaching the top of a 5' fence

My wife standing next to the same fence and "Full Speed A-Hedge" after only four years

The key to getting the fasted possible growth is to make sure the plants get watered regularly when young. The soil should be moist but not soaking wet. Fertilize them in early spring. I recommend a high nitrogen fertilizer at label rates. Keep the plants free of weeds! Weeds will rob your plants of growth by competing for water, nutrients and sunlight. Mulch is a good way to prevent weeds. A two inch layer of composted wood chips will do the job and help retain water. That's it.  

John, like most people that develop new plants, never got rich. But for plant breeders it’s not about the money. It’s about that special feeling you get when you invent something useful, something beautiful, something that your fellow man appreciates. It’s about that one-in-a-million moment when you drive through a neighborhood and see your plant in someone’s yard. John got to experience that before a few years back. Some 70 years since he pulled his first paycheck from the landscape trade in 1938, John Houser has retired and is at rest, but his plant lives on. 

To locate plants for purchase visit FullSpeedAhedge.com     

The Beauty of Bark

Bark can be one of the most beautiful aspects of a tree. When you walk through the woods or through a garden, it is usually what you see at eye level. Every tree species has its own unique bark, offering different colors, patterns and textures, some quite mundane and inconspicuous to the untrained eye, while others are a piece of precious art, giving the viewer an easy means to recognize the species. 

In my travels, I get to see a lot of plants, but it is a special joy to visit a garden with a diversity of mature trees - even better if they are labeled. I always stop to photograph them, particularly their leaves and bark, but it is the bark diversity that fascinates me the most. Andrew Bunting, a old friend with whom I interned with at the Chicago Botanic Garden, got me in the habit of noticing and photographing tree bark. He had written an article on bark in some magazine and had accompanied it with a series of beautiful pictures. "How beautiful," I thought, and shortly thereafter I started shooting bark. I don't see Andrew all that often anymore (he is now working at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and I'm in Michigan or off traveling the world), but each time I take a photograph of bark, I think of him. 

As children we are taught in school to learn the trees by their leaves. Who hasn't made a leaf collection as elementary school project? But leaves are often hard to view on large mature trees until they fall. The leaves of a species or cultivar can also be quite deceiving. Think of all the plant names that end with the Latin word for leaf, -folium, such as Acer carpinifolium and Viburnum acerfolium. There must be a hundred different leaf shapes in Acer palmatum. Bark gives us one more clue when identifying a tree or shrub, so get to know your bark. You'll find it quite useful when walking in the woods in the winter months. 

Below are 25 diverse images of tree bark, and they're not is any particular order. Some are easy to recognize, while others are a bit more challenging. See if you can identify them on your own. Then try matching them up with a list of names provided. How'd you do? Share this post with your friends and cohorts to test their tree and bark knowledge. It's kind of enjoyable, at least for me, but then again, I'm a bit of a plant nerd. Enjoy.       

Scroll down below the pictures see the plant list and even further to see the answers.





















Twenty One

Twenty Two

Twenty Three

Twenty Four

Twenty Five


Acer griseum - paperbark maple
Ailanthus altissina - tree of heaven
Alnus incana - European gray alder
Arbutus menziesii - Pacific madrone or madrona
Betula alleghaniensis - yellow birch
Betula papyrifera - paper or canoe birch
Carpinus betulus - European hornbeam 
Carya illinoinensis - hardy pecan
Castanea dentata - American chestnut
Cornus florida - Eastern Dogwood
Davidia involucrata - dove tree
Diospyros virginiana - American persimmon 
Fagus grandifolia - American beech 
Gymnocladus dioicus - Kentucky coffee tree
Lagerstroemia x 'Natchez' - Natchex crapemyrtle
Pinus bungeana - lacebark pine
Prunus serrula - Himalayan birch bark cherry  
Robinia pseudoacacia - black locust
Sequoiadendron gigantieum - Giant Sequoia 
Stachyurus praecox - stachyrus shrub 
Stewartia pseudocamellia - Japanese stewartia 
Syringa vulgaris - common lilac
Taxodium distichum - bald cypress
Tilia americana - basswood or American linden
Zelkova serrata - Japanese zelkova

Scroll down ever further, if you wish to view the answers with clues for remembering them.

1     Betula papyrifera - paper or canoe birch - WHITE PAPER
2     Ailanthus altissina - tree of heaven - STRETCHED SKIN
3    Taxodium distichum - bald cypress- FLUTED
4    Tilia americana - basswood or American linden EVEN BASKET WEAVE
5     Lagerstroemia x 'Natchez' - Natchex crapemyrtle  ARTISTIC BEAUTY
6     Betula alleghaniensis - yellow birch - SILVER PAPER
7     Alnus incana - European gray alder - FORGETTABLE GREY
8     Arbutus menziesii - Pacific madrone or madrona BEAUTIFUL CREAM AND RED
9     Syringa vulgaris - common lilac ANGULAR NARROW RIDGES
10   Robinia pseudoacacia - black locust COURSE BASKET WEAVE
11   Stewartia pseudocamellia - Japanese stewartia  ARTISTIC BEAUTY
12   Pinus bungeana - lacebark pine  - PATCHY
13   Castanea dentata - American chestnut SMOOTH IRREGULAR PATCHES
14   Carya illinoinensis - hardy pecan TIGHT BASKET WEAVE
15   Zelkova serrata - Japanese zelkova CHUNKY PATCHES 
16   Carpinus betulus - European hornbeam SMOOTH
17   Cornus florida - Eastern Dogwood - ALLIGATOR BARK 
18   Acer griseum - paperbark maple - RED PAPER
19   Davidia involucrata - dove tree IRREGULAR FLAKES
20   Diospyros virginiana - American persimmon - THE HULK
21   Sequoiadendron gigantieum - Giant Sequoia - SOFT RED PILLOW
22   Stachyurus praecox - stachyrus shrub LINEAR SMOOTH AND ROUGH 
23   Gymnocladus dioicus - Kentucky coffee tree - LONG FIXED FLAKES
24   Fagus grandifolia - American beech - SILVER, OFTEN CARVED
25   Prunus serrula - Himalayan birch bark cherry - RED GLOSSY

On the Road Again

It's that time of year when I go out and about giving plant talks. I thought I would give you an update on when and where I will be speaking. In other words this post is an unabashed attempt at self promotion so that my audience will be greater than six people (it's happened). 

You won't have to travel far to hear me speak on behalf of the WNLA as I will be presenting a Webinar on Wednesday November 28th at 1:00 pm eastern / 12:00 central time. Join me as we explore the impact of boxwood blight on the future of the nursery and landscape industry and as we take a look at some of the best alternative shrubs that can fill the same niche as box. Sign up Today.

 What will become of this family of boxwood?  

Not just one plant geek, but twelve all in the same room

Please join me at the SNA Conference in Baltimore on Tuesday, January 8th. I will be presenting a new talk called "Breakthrough Plant Breeding in Flowering Shrubs." where we will explore a series of unique plant introductions that have changed the way we garden and landscape.Cool stuff right?  

The SNA Conference is a two day, rapid fire plant geek fest just before the MANTS show, so come a bit early to hear the greatest line up plant geeks every assembled. If not for me, come and hear Buddy Lee "the inventor of Encore Azaleas," author and plant geek Paul Cappiello, Mr. Tree Man himself - Keith Warren, Natalia Hamill - the First Lady of new plants and your Ragin' Cajun plantsman extraordinaire Todd Lasseigne. It is a must attend event for all plant geeks, so be there, or be normal, it's your choice.  

A bit closer to home, I will be giving a talk in Lansing, Michigan at the  2019 Great Lakes Trade Exposition.  

"Shrubs that Will Change the Way we Landscape" is the title of the talk I will be presenting on January 29th at 4:15 pm. 

It used to be that shrubs were the bones and background of the garden. They were big plants, that bloomed for two weeks or less and then they faded into oblivion. All that has changed. Plant breeders the world over have reinvented the shrub and with that, the way we used them in our gardens and landscapes. This talk will highlight some of the most interesting breakthroughs in plant breeding and how designers can use them to make better gardens and landscapes. 

Oh So Popular!

One plant at a time, Proven Winners has become oh so popular!

On February 7th I will be speaking in Cincinnati, OH at the 2019 Tri-State Green Industry Conference.  The Tri-State Green Industry Conference is a collaborative effort between Ohio State University Extension, Purdue Extension, University of Kentucky Extension, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, Boone County Arboretum and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Whoa - that's a lot of collaboration!

The title of my talk will be "Proven Winners - What has driven our success." The topic was suggested by my friend Scott Beuerlein of the Cincinnati Zoo. I've not yet written the talk, but I think it will be interesting. Proven Winners has a remarkable story and I am fortunate to have been a part of its growth and evolution. You'll have to attend to find out if the talk is any good or not. Click here to learn more.  

MSU - The birth place of modern horticulture

My good friend Mary Wilson of the Michigan State University Extension Service is a badger (a Wisconsin Badger). She insisted that speak at her Plants of Distinction conference in Novi, Michigan. How could I say no? Rumor has it that David Culp and my friend and fellow Spartan Matthew Ross of Longwood Gardens will me join me on February 13th for this event. If you are in the area come on over and catch my talk "The Hunt for New Hydrangeas." You'll everything and more about Hydrangeas and how to grow them. I hope to see you there!

That's me in a wild patch of Hydrangea in Japan

Last, but of not least, I will be appearing at the Devos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Saturday March 2nd. My friend and fellow Spartan Rebecca Finneran booked me for the Michigan State University Extension Smart Gardening Conference. How could I turn down the nicest person in horticulture? I will be speaking about "Smart Shrubs", the ones that make our lives better, easier and more joyful. Better than an iPhone, these smart shrubs will amaze you, so mark you calendar and join me in Beer City USA for this special event. 

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday! We all have so many reasons to be thankful. I am especially thankful that I work in such a great industry, with such friendly and interesting people. Plant people are special. They notice and appreciate the small miracles that happen all around us, every day. I am also very grateful and appreciative to those of you that read my blog. Thank you and thumbs up to you my fellow plant hunters!     

Two thumbs up plant talks

Pretty. Powerful. Pink Annabelle Hydrangea.

Unfortunately, we all know someone who's been touched by breast cancer. For me, it was my mom. I was about twelve or thirteen years old when she was diagnosed, and back in the early seventies the treatment options were not all that good. She survived, but it changed her and changed me as well. So when I found the opportunity to help fund breast cancer research through my work with Proven Winners, I was all in. I saw it as a great opportunity to get the entire nursery and garden center industry involved in a cause worth supporting. It's Pretty. It's Powerful. Take a moment and watch this video.  

Thank you for watching the video. Now ask yourself what you can do. It might be as little as sharing this blog post with your friends on Facebook, buying your mom an Invincibelle Spirit II hydrangea, or making a small donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Or it could be something bigger. You decide. Individual actions can grow and become pretty...powerful. 

More about the campaign at InvincibelleSpirit.net