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Environmental Studies

Lonicera tatarica (Tartan Honeysuckle) Caprifoliaceae

 The Tatarian Honeysuckle is a perenn low-maintainance shrub native to central Asia and southern Russia. It stands upright with an oval to rounded shape, approaching between 9 and 12 feet at maturity. It was introduced as an ornamental plant in North America in 1752 and has since then spread tremendously and invaded many natural areas. While the plant continues to be used for ornamental purposes, it is notoriously regarded as an invasive specie that inhibits biodiversity. 



Physical characteristics

Leaf: The leaves are between 1 and a half to 2 inches in a half long, and a half an inch to one and a half inches across. They are ovate with slightly cordate bases and smooth margins. They are simple, entire and accuminate, with their apexes extensively pointed. There are two leaves per node, growing on leaf stalks along the stem.

Flower | Fruits: The tubular flowers are white, pink or red and develop from the upper axils of the leaves. They appear at the end of a slender pedicel, generally around an inch long.  They are three quarters of an inch long and across. They consist of  a corolla with five long and narrow petals, five stamens composed of white filaments and yellow anthers and a pistil carrying a single style. At the base the corolla is tubular, but develops upward into five spreading lobes. The blooming period occurs during late spring or early summer and usually lasts about three weeks. The flowers release the sweet fragrance of honeysuckles, consequently earning the iconic name Tatarian Honeysuckle. 

The flowers are replaced by pairs of berries, which achieve a bright red color and juicy flesh at maturity. Each berry about a quarter of an inch across, contains numerous seeds.

Shape: Upright oval to rounded shrub. 

Twigs: Hollow, glabrous. Brownish to gray during the winter.

Trunk | Bark: The bark of older branches is grayish brown with narrow ridges, and with age there appear vertically shredded strips of bark. Young shoots are light green to reddish brown and glabrous to slightly pubescent and smooth. The branches are rather fragile. 


Ecological characteristics

The Tartarian Honeysuckle is non-native although it has naturalized and become common in certain areas of Illinois, especially in the Northern half of the state. It is widespread throughout North America. It is present in the northern regions of Alaska, down to central provinces of Canada such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, to the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Great Lakes of the United States, all the way south to Texas and New Mexico. Its range stretches from the west regions of California and Oregon to the east and northeast of the United States and Canada.

The plant grows in a wide variety of soil and environmental conditions. It is most commonly found in woodlands, thickets, and disturbed habitats or urban areas including roadsides and other neglected sites. It can withstand flooding, drought and although it prefers full sun, it can tolerate shade. Lonicera tatarica is categorized as an invasive plant. It tends to spread rapidly and invade natural areas, thus reducing biodiversity. It restricts the growth of native plants, and particularly inhibits the development of ground layer species by forming a dense understory thicket. Those able to thrive are eventually outcompeted, as the Tatarian Honeysuckle shades the ground and depletes the soil of moisture and nutrients. Its rapid spread is caused mainly by the consumption of its berries by birds. 

Tatarian Honeysuckle distribution


Relationship with other species

Non-human: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract numerous pollinating birds such as the Hummingbird and the Ruby-Throated, and various bees. Insects feed on the leaves and other parts of the foliage while the berries are eaten by birds, notoriously Robins, Starlings and Cedar 

Humans: The Tartarian Honeysuckle is used for ornamental purposes. When blooming its bright pinkish flowers can provide an attractive sight. Also, because of its medium size and considerable density it is often used to create hedges. Although rare, private nurseries have been known to cultivate this species for retail purposes.

Disease: Witches broom (a disease causing deformity where the structure of a plant is altered and a significant number of shoots grow from a single point, resulting in a broom-like shaped structure.) caused by Russian aphids.

Other interesting facts

  • Methods of mechanical and chemical nature can be used to control invasion of the Tatarian Honeysuckle, though they require a minimum of 3 years to effectively prevent new plants from emerging.

  • In the invasiveness rank (scale from 0 to 100, where 0 represents a plant posing no threat to native ecosystems and 100 a plant posing critical threats to native habitats) the Tatarian Honeysuckle is listed at 69. 
  • Tatarian Honeysuckle are often the first shrubs to grow leaves in the spring.
  • The berries of the Tatarian Honeysuckle are toxic, though no human deaths stemming from consumption of these berries has been recorded. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pains. Other species of the Honeysuckle genus such as the Lonicera caerulea (Sweet-berry Honeysuckle), actually produce edible berries.









Page drafted by Gninnanhoyan P. Toure