The Honeysuckle Hybrid Lonicera morrowii x tatarica = L. x bella Zabel

at Buckhorn Island State Park, Erie County, New York

P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica, a Missouri Botanical Garden Web site

Originally published in Clintonia: Newsletter of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society 14(4): 5. 1999.

Republished with permission.



by P. M. Eckel


The common weedy shrubs Lonicera tatarica L. and L. morrowii A. Gray are so familiar to us in the infested woodlands we enjoy exploring around the semi-urban areas around the city of Buffalo, that it is very easy to dismiss them. When their flowers are white, they can be readily distinguished by L. morrowii having pubescent leaves, L. tatarica with glabrous. I had been collecting for a year at Buckhorn Island State Park. a botanically rich area that, oddly enough, has escaped systematic exploration by area botanists since botany attracted its first serious students in Buffalo just before the Civil War. Lonicera grows freely along all disturbed areas, especially beside walkways, and in May the path areas are festive with their white, pink and yellow flowers.


The Buckhorn Island flora is particularly rich in herbaceous species, which I had been dutifully cataloguing, when I thought I had better get down to deciding whether I had Lonicera tatarica or its cousin, L. morrowii. I was surprised to discover I had both in one! That is, I had a hybrid. The leaves were clearly pubescent beneath (L. morrowii) but that species does not have deep pink flowers. Of all the alien, shrubby Loniceras to choose from L. tatarica is our only species with pink-flowered shrubs as well as white ones. The hybrid has beautiful uniformly pale to deep pink flowers as well as distinctly pubescent leaves—a combination that appears hard to miss in the field.


Note the curious fact that all of our alien species, including this hybrid and excepting the viney Lonicera japonica, have brown (not white) pith. The hybrid is listed in some manuals as Lonicera bells Zabel. Its occurrence in the wild is so often associated with horticulture that it may not appear in many floras or checklists. Voss (1996) documents the considerable abundance of the hybrid in Michigan. The station at Buckhorn is not an escape from cultivation nearby, the closest residences being quite some distance away. This population seems more to derive from birds, and not from their droppings, as one might expect, but rather from regurgitation of undigested seeds after eating the berries (Soper & Heimburger, 1982). Whether these plants derived from spontaneous hybridization of the two species in the field remains to be seen as I have not yet looked for L. tatarica in the park.


Another good character for Lonicera x bella is that the corolla is around 5 mm longer than that of either L. morrowii or L. tatarica. Some manuals don't specify corolla length of any of these three: L. tatarica and L. morrowii on average 11 mm (to 16): L. x bella on average 21 mm (to 25), although Fernald (1950) indicates that the corolla for L. x bella is shorter than that of L. morrowii.


The hybrid appears to be new to our checklist area for western New York and the Niagara Peninsular region of Ontario, but until a bibliographic update has been made, it is only presumed to be an addition.


The permission to collect at Buckhorn Island by the New York State Department of Parks is gratefully acknowledged.


Fernald, M. L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany ED. 8. American Book Company, New York.

Soper, J. H. & M. L. Heimburger. 1982. Shrubs of Ontario. Royal Ontario Museum Publications in Life Sciences, Toronto.

Voss, E.G. 1996. Michigan Flora. Part III. Dicots (Pyrolaceae-Compositae). Cranbrook Institute of Science Bulletin 61, and University of Michigan Herbarium