If I told you there’s a great plant called Himalayan honeysuckle, what would you picture? Maybe you’d think of Japanese honeysuckle and picture the world overrun by a vine with sweet-smelling flowers? Or perhaps you’d focus on the “Himalayan” part of its name and think the plant grows only in high mountains? Well, you’d be way off on both accounts.

Himalayan honeysuckle bloom
You can find blooms, bracts and berries on Himalayan honeysuckle all at the same time.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer
Himalayan honeysuckle
Slightly arching, hollow green stems are characteristic of this beautiful shrub.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer
Himalayan honeysuckle
The leaves’ subtle purple margins combine well with other purple-leaved plants.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer

First, Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) is a shrub, not a vine. It has white flowers, but they’re not fragrant. And it’s hardy only to USDA hardiness Zone 6b or 7, so high mountain ranges are out of the question.

But this very underappreciated shrub has lots of positives: Its hollow green stems are reminiscent of bamboo, but without the invasive properties. Its leaves are long and edged in purple, and in late summer the leaf veins turn purple, too. Its small, white flowers appear in midsummer (and keep going until frost), and they’re surrounded by dark red bracts that droop from stem tips. In late summer, the plant produces edible fruits that mature from green to pink to red to dark purple. (Many people say the fruit tastes like burnt caramel – and if you don’t eat them, the wildlife surely will!) What’s more, the fruit production doesn’t stop the flowers – it’s very common for both to appear on the plant simultaneously, adding to this shrub’s ongoing beauty.

Despite all its attributes, Himalayan honeysuckle isn’t very well known (probably because it’s somewhat tender). But once you’ve seen the plant in a grouping, it’s hard to forget! Plant it in almost any moist soil in full sun or part shade and it’ll grow fast – reaching about 6 feet tall and about as wide by season’s end.

Even better, this deciduous shrub is easy to maintain. Mulch it heavily in fall, since harsh winters can kill them. In late winter or early spring, cut back the entire plant to about 6 inches from the ground (yes, you read that right – 6 inches). New growth is late to emerge from the plant base, but don’t panic – it’ll appear. (Flowers are produced on the current year’s wood, so cutting it back won’t decrease flower production one bit. It also keeps the plants from becoming crowded, so they’re healthier.) As far as pests and diseases, there are virtually none, although spider mites can be a problem during dry periods.

Single plants can be overlooked in a landscape, but groupings are truly showy. Place them in a spot that’s protected from strong winds since the hollow stems break easily. This beauty also combines well in mixed borders. Try growing it alongside purple-leaved shrubs, like red Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea), pruned purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria cultivars) or purpleleaf sand cherry (Prunus cistena).

Now that you know there’s nothing to fear from Himalayan honeysuckle, why not try one in your garden? (And thank intrepid plant explorers and industrious horticulturists that you don’t have to go to the Himalayas to find one.)