by Ian Brand

Out for an evening stroll, I cannot resist stopping to inhale the sweet fragrance of Honeysuckle. I know the scent is not for my benefit but to attract long-tongued, night-flying moths especially Hawk-moths and the Silver-Y. During the day, visiting insects include the occasional long-tongued bumblebee although they are not effective pollinators, and honeybees with shorter tongues don’t even try.

The flowers open early evening, and moths are attracted by the creamy-white flower, the presence of nectar and the strong evening scent.

Like many flowers, Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) has a male and female phase to aid cross-pollination. First the male anthers release pollen. The female stigma in the same flower does not become receptive to pollen until sometime later after which most of the pollen has been shed.

The Honeysuckle takes this one stage further; on the first evening of opening, the flower is in the male phase. The male stamens are uppermost at the flower entrance and the female style tucked below. So any moth visiting to feast on the nectar gets covered in pollen. Come the second night their relative positions are reversed, and the flower is in the female phase. The style is now uppermost at the flower’s entrance awaiting any visiting moth hopefully already covered in pollen. This rather complicated arrangement of alternate prominence of stamens and style thus promotes cross-pollination.

“Woodbine Cottage” is a common rural house name referring to either Honeysuckle or Clematis climbing and twining itself around the front door. Something you probably hadn’t noticed is that Honeysuckle always spirals the same way - clockwise. The direction of twist isn’t derived from the shoot following the sun, nor is it different in the southern hemisphere (like water going down the plug-hole). The direction of turn depends on the species of plant, some turning clockwise, others anti-clockwise.

The comic musical duo Flanders and Swann wrote their song “Misalliance”, about the spiralling Honeysuckle and Bindweed:

“The fragrant honeysuckle spirals clockwise to the sun,

And many creepers do the same.

But some climb anti-clockwise, the bindweed does, for one,

Or Convolvulus, to give her the proper name”.

The song goes on to tell of the Honeysuckle and Bindweed falling in love, and the Honeysuckle’s parents’ disapproval for marrying a common Bindweed.

So I encourage you to take a summer evening stroll. It can be a magical time; don’t forget to stop and take a look at the Honeysuckle and smell that heady scent.

The more you know, the more you see, and the more you see, the more you enjoy.