A Gardening Journal

Durably Deciduous: 'Winter Beauty' Honeysuckle

Winter Beauty honeysuckle is one of my garden's most hardworking shrubs: fragrant flowers in late winter, purple bark on the new stems in summer, colorful bark on the older stems all winter and, perhaps closest to my heart, the ability to be trained into espaliers as well as standards and coppices.

 

Here's yet another talent: The foliage doesn't check out when fall frosts begin.

 

Lonicera x purpusii Winter Beauty overall vertical 112017 640

 

Instead, the leaves often persist into the first snows. In my garden, that might not be until late December, when the calendar says that winter itself has arrived. True, foliage that falls by Christmas certainly isn't evergreen, but it's not nothing at a time when so many other plants retreat to the ground, or whose branches have become completely bare. What about calling the shrub "defiantly deciduous?"

 

The thick leaves of Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' remain green despite repeated temperature dips into the low twenties Fahrenheit—enough to hustle all the readily-deciduous foliage of the garden through fall coloring and then to the ground. The contrast with the stalwartly green Winter Beauty foliage intensifies week after week. 

 

Winter Beauty leaves release from the stems one by one, in no discernable order. Look again at the picture above: Foliage is still present at the tips of most of the hyper-lengthy, wand-like stems that had begun to arise directly from the base last spring. But long portions along their middles are leafless. In the picture below, you can see that some but not all of the foliage is also still intact in the twiggier growth that is forming the head of my standard-in-training.

 

Lonicera x purpusii Winter Beauty foliage 112017 640

 

Wands begin producing this shorter, branchier growth in their second season. If leaves are long-lasting both on the very newest growth—those wand tips—and this dense older growth, then stem age must not be determinant for foliar persistence. Perhaps it relates more to a given leaf's position on the bush, not the age of the growth it emerges from. Is a leaf that's more exposed to strong winds and the full brunt of frost more likely to fall sooner? If this were the case, then the tips of the wands would have become leafless first.

 

So, while retention of Winter Beauty foliage doesn't clearly correlate with weather—this frost or heavy wind, happening in this week or that—or to the position of a given leaf on a given stem, it does relate to climate. Think of climate as the multi-year average of all of the day-to-day weather. My Winter Beauty is growing in climate zone 6 and, by the New Year, the shrub is leafless. In warmer and warmer zones, the foliage is more and more persistent.

 

In zones 8 and warmer, this shrub can be fully evergreen—to which I say, "Ho hum," because the swooningly fragrant flowers that begin opening as winter slides into spring would still be hidden by the foliage. Here, the flower buds on bare stems are in full view when winter is at its worst. Their maturation into flowers—from fully protected buds, to swollen but still sheathed, to just a bit of petal showing but then pausing for weeks, if needed, to open into flowers—takes place right out in the open. There's real drama in the buds' (literally) naked defiance of brutal weather all along the way.

 

The flowers on a Winter Beauty shrub that is evergreen aren't noticeable until they are full-on and pouring out their fragrance. Those borne by a Winter Beauty that is deciduous are interesting every millimeter of the way, week by week by week. 

 

 

Here's a look at the first buds that, one year, were "showing petal" by mid-January. Thank goodness it's the norm in my garden that all the leaves of Winter Beauty have fallen by then; otherwise, I might have missed these early emergers.

 

Here's how to grow Winter Beauty honeysuckle, as well as close-ups of its flowers.

 

Here's how handsome this shrub's colorful new stems are in combination with their blue-green foliage. You can also see how regularly the leaves are arrayed on both sides of each stem: facing up while also pointing upward and outward. 

 

 
 
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