Himalayan honeysuckle, Leycesteria formosa, is just as beautiful as all the other types of honeysuckle plants, yet offers its own unique appeal.
L. formosa can be grown as a vine or a shrub, and it produces sweet-smelling white flowers that descend from scarlet or purple bracts.
These flowers bloom in the late spring through summer. In fall, plants produce berries with a noteworthy flavor similar to that of caramel or toffee.
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Though similar to other honeysuckle plants in the Caprifoliaceae family, Himalayan honeysuckle offers notable differences in terms of its low-maintenance appeal as well as its visual appearance.
What really makes these plants so special is their origin, they come from the Himalayas – which means lots of chilly nights are required to help keep them healthy.
If you’re interested in learning more about what conditions contribute to a good life for the beautiful Himalayan honeysuckle, here’s what I’ll cover:
What You’ll Learn
What Is Himalayan Honeysuckle?
As its common name might suggest, L. formosa is native to the Himalayas in Asia.
It is frequently regarded as a noxious weed in places like Australia and New Zealand, but fortunately, it can easily be controlled by gardeners who wish to grow it in North America.
It grows rapidly and is adaptable to many garden conditions, and as such, it is considered invasive today in some areas.
If you are worried about its ability to spread, consider isolating this plant in one area of the garden, away from other plants that might not be able to hold their own.
You can always grow it in a container or create divisions on a regular basis to control its spread.
Otherwise, beyond the potential need to keep it in check, there’s lots to enjoy about this shrub!
It produces arching stems that begin to flower in the late spring or early summer and grows to about three to six feet tall and wide.
Its upright, hollow stems are gray in color and clad with dark green leaves, each of which is about two to seven inches long.
The small flowers (usually white) generally endure until fall and are followed by tiny purple, edible berries that are prized for their flavor.
Of course, you can’t overlook the beauty of this plant’s colorful bracts, either. These are a deep purple, sometimes dark scarlet, and are often even more captivating to behold than the flowers themselves.
This plant goes by many other names, though Himalayan honeysuckle is of course one of the most common.
Other names for L. formosa include pheasant-eye and pheasant berry, named as such because pheasants love to eat the tasty fruits. You may also hear the shrub referred to as flowering nutmeg or granny’s curls.
Cultivation and History
Though native to the Himalayas, L. formosa is now naturalized in the wild in southern England.
Its generic common name was first coined in 1820 by Nathaniel Wallich, former director of the Calcutta Botanic Garden. He chose “Leycesteria” in honor of his good friend William Leycester, who was then a judge in Bengal.
In Latin, the scientific name also pays homage to the plant’s appearance, with “formosa” translating roughly to “beautiful.”
Himalayan honeysuckle is winter hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9.
Himalayan honeysuckle can be propagated by seed as well as from softwood cuttings.
If you can, purchase seeds that have already been cold stratified for several months.
You do not need any supplemental heat when germinating your seeds. Instead, just sow seeds into a tray of moist seed starting mixture in the fall, and cover them to their own depth (1/8 inch or so) with sand.
If you did not purchase seeds that were already cold stratified, keep the tray in a cool location that is around 40 to 50°F, and maintain even moisture.
Seeds almost always germinate in the spring regardless of when they were sown, but this period of cool temperatures helps to increase germination rates.
From Stem Cuttings
If you choose to propagate cuttings, you can take softwood cuttings of about four inches in length in the summer.
Make a cut just below the node where one or two leaves attach to the stem. Remove any flowers, and remove any leaves from the lower half of the cuttings.
Any kind of well-draining potting mixture can be used in a container that is at least four to five inches deep. If planting multiple cuttings, provide at least six inches of space between them in a large container, or give each its own pot.
Dip the base of each cutting in a rooting hormone product. Then, use your finger or a pencil to make a hole about two inches deep in the growing medium.
Place the cutting in the hole, then firm the growing medium around the stem. Water and allow it to drain.
Keep them indoors in a location that receives bright, indirect sunlight. Check them daily and remoisten the medium when it starts to dry out on the surface.
The soil should feel moist to a depth of at least two inches. Your cuttings should have roots within six to eight weeks.
Once the roots have developed, you may transplant cuttings to the garden in the fall.
To transplant your seedlings or rooted stem cuttings, dig a hole that is just as deep and twice as wide as the root ball of your plant. Remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the roots before placing it in the soil.
The top of the root ball should be slightly higher than the soil line. When you bury the roots, create a slight mound. This will allow water to drain away from the base so that it does not become waterlogged.
Firm the soil around the plant, then water deeply.
If you wish to grow multiple plants, space them about two to three feet apart. This will allow you to form a hedge or border without overcrowding the plants.
How to Grow
L. formosa enjoys a full sun location, but note that a bit of afternoon shade is desirable in warmer areas.
This is a low-maintenance plant, requiring only occasional water in dry periods once established. In the first two years after transplanting it should be watered regularly in the absence of rain, receiving about an inch of water per week.
If winter temperatures regularly dip below 15°F, the stems of this shrub will freeze to the ground. Fortunately, new ones will sprout in spring as long as the roots are protected, and grow back quickly by summer. They’ll often put on several feet of growth by this time.
L. formosa grows best in average, well-drained soil. This undemanding plant can grow in nutritionally poor soils and it tolerates everything from sand to clay, and a pH range of 6.0 to 8.0.
As long as the soil is kept moist while it is becoming established, this plant does not require a lot of attention.
If you wish to fertilize, you can add a side dressing of compost in the fall or spring. Again, this is not necessary but can be done if your soil is exceptionally poor.
You can apply a thick, two to three-inch layer of mulch for the winter if you live in an area that is near the northern edge of the suitable growing range or an area that is prone to particularly cold winters. This will help protect the root system.
- Plant in well-draining soil in a full sun location.
- Water deeply during dry spells.
- Mulch in the fall for winter protection.
Pruning and Maintenance
Your plant can be cut back to within just a few inches of the ground in the late winter or early spring, when plants are dormant.
Although it is not necessary for the health of the plant, this kind of hard pruning can help control its size and limit its spread in your garden. It can also revitalize the plant’s appearance, especially if you remove any weak, twiggy growth.
Flowers appear on new growth, so do not worry about heavy pruning affecting your blooms.
L. formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’ is a popular cultivar that has all the attractive features of the parent species, but with a unique twist. Its new growth is tinted in amber and its foliage is more yellow than it is green.
It blooms a bit later in the season, too, often flowering until October. It grows to about six feet tall and four feet wide at maturity.
It is a bit more cold-hardy than the species plant as well, suitable for Zones 6-9.
‘Jealousy’ is another cultivar to consider. This one also grows in an upright fashion with yellowish leaves that turn purple in the fall.
It is hardy in Zones 7-9 and offers all the appeal of other kinds of Himalayan honeysuckle. It grows a bit more slowly, often taking up to ten years to reach its full size of six feet tall and three to four feet wide.
This makes it a good option for gardeners who want to control its spread.
Managing Pests and Disease
The Himalayan honeysuckle is a unique shrub in that it is generally considered pest- and disease-free.
This is in contrast to other kinds of honeysuckle plants in the Caprifoliaceae family that tend to be vulnerable to pests and diseases like potato aphids, leaf blight, and diaporthe stem canker.
There are countless ways you can incorporate L. formosa in your landscape.
In warmer areas, where growing in a bit of shade is ideal, it can also be incorporated into a woodland garden.
And don’t forget the appeal of its edible berries, both for yourself and for attracting birds of all kinds. Hummingbirds, finches, blackbirds, pheasants, thrushes, and many other types of birds all appreciate Himalayan honeysuckle.
Of course, the birds may get to those berries first, and that’s just a risk you’ll have to take. Many gardeners choose to harvest the berries to use in their cooking if they’re able to save any.
They have a toffee- or caramel-like flavor so are wonderful in desserts, such as tarts and pies.
Do be gentle when harvesting the berries, however, as they are soft and easily damaged. In fact, this is how you can tell they are ripe. If they burst at the slightest pressure from your fingertips, they are ready to be harvested.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
|Plant Type:||Woody shrub||Flower / Foliage Color:||White with purple bracts/green|
|Hardiness (USDA Zone):||7-9||Tolerance:||Cold hardy once mature|
|Bloom Time:||June to September||Soil Type:||Average|
|Exposure:||Full to partial sun||Soil pH:||6.0-8.0|
|Spacing:||2-3 feet||Soil Drainage:||Well-draining|
|Planting Depth:||Depth of root ball (transplants), 1/8 inch (seeds)||Attracts:||Hummingbirds|
|Height:||6 feet||Uses:||Cottage garden, borders, woodland garden, edible berries|
|Time to Maturity:||5-7 years||Genus:||Leycesteria|
|Water Needs:||Low, when established||Species:||Formosa|
Super Sweet Berries and Hummingbirds for Days
A perennial shrub, L. formosa is easy to grow and simple to care for. Although it does take some time for the seed to germinate (and you’ll need to be mindful of the plant’s ability to spread and sprawl), you should find that growing this plant is not challenging.
After all, it has virtually zero pest and disease problems to worry about and requires little care besides the occasional splash of water.
If you’re ready to grow an attractive plant that will attract hordes of hummingbirds to your garden, L. formosa is one to consider.
Are you growing Himalayan honeysuckle? Let us know in the comments section below!
And for more information about growing flowering shrubs in your garden, have a look at these guides next:
About Rebekah Pierce
Rebekah Pierce started a small farm with her husband in 2016 in upstate New York, near her native Adirondack Mountains. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in special education, she has been writing professionally since 2017, but only recently left the world of teaching to pursue writing and farming full time.