Honeyberries

For all the enticing perfumes the genus Lonicera offers, and yet most species withholding their fruits as tiny and poisonous, it seems like the species that gives its energy to larger, non-poisonous fruit, taking away from the scented flowers would be amazing. That species is honeyberries.

Lonicera edulis/ villosa var. carulea, or blue fruited honeysuckle, is a small bush from three to six foot tall from boreal forests of Asia and Russia. Growing in such cold regions, it’s hardy to USDA zone 2. Only issue can be getting two pollinating varieties. There are in general only two major categories -early and late blooming. Not too complicated.

I have several varieties in my food forest. The oldest, and best fruiting so far, ‘Tundra’ and ‘Berry Blue,’ I like a lot. The ones in good positions already give a decent handful of fruit every year, and started producing the spring after I planted them.

I think I would have more production from my four year old bushes if the deer didn’t keep nibbling them back over winter. They have stayed a neat 2ft tall accept for the berry blue, which is about 4 ft now. I haven’t noticed significant browsing on that one.

I must admit for being called honeyberry, they aren’t especially sweet. ‘Berry Blue’ is downright sour really. Thay have a rich flavor complex that makes for a pleasant experience nonetheless. The one with the better tasting, larger fruits so far is ‘Tundra’ or ‘Indigo Gem’ as the market is beginning to call it.

‘Berry Blue’ on my palm and ‘Tundra’ on my fingers.

They are very nutritious though. They put blueberries to shame, having far more antioxidants and higher selenium content. Take a look at this page for their superfruit profile.

These, and most honeyberries on the market today, are hybrids between the Japanese and Russian varieties. The Russian varieties, I’m told, are inferior to the Japanese stock in flavor as well as viability when grown in the States.

The fusion of the two produces a larger berry and better flavor than in either of their wild progenitors. From what I read, it has gotten much better than the varieties I started with. So I keep collecting new varieties for trial.

One that looks especially large is ‘Blue Belle.’ which I have yet to get my hands on. I even had it ordered this spring from Burnt Ridge, but they informed me later it was a crop failure. The pictures of this variety (with a ruler next to it) measures an inch, which is better than my ‘Tundra,’ which pushes a half inch.

Pictures of ‘Tundra’ often show a berry pushing 3/4,” so perhaps their growing conditions could be better. I have my honeyberries in the upper back of the food forest, just below the grain patch because the woods to the east makes shade, and the catalpa tree makes shade, and they say honeyberries can take a lot of shade, so I stuck them there.

The ones furthest back, while growing happily, haven’t made as much fruit as those on the swale getting a bit more sun. I am planting the new varieties closer to the front of the food forest with more open exposure and sun. This was their first year to fruit and they were notably prolific. Nevertheless, they don’t seem to like all the wind exposure, growing slower and shorter. That should change as I get wind breaks up. Perhaps those will be the best producers once the canopy gives protection.

Few of the older plants are in established guilds, so put up with some grass competition. To be so happy with little care definitely sets them at the top of my list for food forest berry plants. It is my hope that as conditions become less weedy and more shady, that these become the real stars of the food forest. That will be a tasty time indeed.

10 thoughts on “Honeyberries”

    1. Thanks for the reblog Carolyn. I had to think when you pointed out it isn’t a Bible plant if any honeysuckle is mentioned in the bible? I can’t think of any now but will have to go looking. Thanks for bringing it to my attention

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    1. I have noticed a tendency to dislike excessive light. Thanks for mentioning that.
      The swale mentioned is only half sun and seems best so far. Martin Crawford is of the opinion that the States, in general, have stronger sunlight than much of Europe. I think what he meant was we often have clear skies wheras his portion of Europe is often overcast. Which I would agree with.
      None of mine produce berries as large as the cultivars pictured in the link. Those look amazing!
      Do you grow any on your patch of heaven?

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    1. I of course recognized you! I know only one Crt, and fewer that would pop up with a spot on observation and tantilizing link. Always glad to see your comments come across.
      I’m curious now: What’s the new project?

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  1. It’s a 100% tech thing, nothing to do with green stuff. I’m a web developer and needed a Gravatar account so I would have a pic show up in a piece of software (GitKraken).

    Apart from that… The animals and plants have had some problems this year because we had a hard frost on Apr 26.

    In our country, Slovenia, the 27th of April is a holiday called the Day of uprising against the occupier – it marks the start of organized struggle during World war II. This year we’re calling it the Day of uprising against spring. It brought heavy snow to half the country and the night before killed off most of young growth in the other half (ours) – all the tree fruit (except some figs, of all things) and most of black locust flower buds which are the backbone of the bees’ annual forage.

    Grapevines and bee-oriented trees (evodia, catalpa, koelreuteria) looked like props in a horror movie. Well, there was one exception – Seven sons tree/bush (heptacodium). Those just didn’t give a fig about the frost despite having been planted just a week before it. Looked the same before and after and are twice the size now.

    Thankfully, soft fruit largely survived, including the honeyberries. Raspberries were delayed (eating them now) but honeyberries were ready on schedule.

    After having planted some years ago and having a decidedly so-so experience I decided a year ago to upgrade with some improved cultivars. Let me consult the notes… They are Morena, Bakcarsky Div = B. Velikan = B. Giant, Karina, Amfora, Nimfa and Uspiech.

    They’ve all had some fruit this year and while not WOW! it would be wrong to call them bad. They are planted on the north side of the house in the not-yet-developed shadow of young sweet cherry and mulberry trees. I’m mulching them heavily with mown grass.

    Hey… Wall of text šŸ™‚

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  2. As a curiosity — in neighboring Croatia there are some intensive plantings of honeyberries, or Haskap as the Canadian cultivars are called. The guys growing there reported on a local forum that on the Day of uprising against spring, they actually had frost damage on them. In Slovenia and Croatia they are called “Siberian blueberries” – they are known to flower in freezing temps and not be bothered at all so everyone was surprised.

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  3. … Note also that similar other soft fruit, they seem to be shallow-rooted and enjoy having enough moisture in the soil. That’s the reason for my heavy mulching. We usually get a month or two or three of drought during the summer. Maybe this year will be different – currently everybody’s joking about an owner of an Indian restaurant coming out and saying Jeez, that’s the most rain I’ve seen in my life – but it’s good to be prepared.

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    1. I am sorry to hear about all the damage. Your term for it is quite funny.
      We had a late frost also although the effects weren’t quite so harsh.
      Glad to hear you got Hepticodium. I think the bees (and you) will enjoy it.
      I have seen very good frost resistance in my honeyberries so no surprise to hear they did well for you. People ask if the early flowers get frosted and I must reply no. Things are frosted around them but I still get lots of fruit.
      I will have to keep an eye out for those cultivar names. Thanks for sharing them. The pure Russian stock, I’m told, were some of the first to make it to the States, but has poor livability here. Would like to find out for myself.
      I’m sure more mulch would help the honeyberries. There is not much it doesn’t. Perhaps I will postpone my bed building agenda to feed the plants that have been straggling for years. Honeyberries seem to handle it better than most.

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