Honey Berry, Siberian Blue Berry – Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica

by Ciaran Burke

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – berries in a bowl

This morning before I left to supervise the Royal Horticultural Society examinations taking place in our Galway centre today, I enjoyed a bowl of muesli topped with berries of Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica- it is so uncommon in gardens that there has yet to be a common name adopted for it; honey berry, blue honeysuckle and siberian blueberry.

Whatever you wish to call it, this is a berried plant to get excited about. The fruits have a taste similar to blueberries and are packed with Vitamin C, and unlike blue berries it will grow in alkaline soils! ANother great feature of this shrub is that the fruits ripen very early in the year, before such fruit bushes as black currants.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

Home for Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica is Kamtschatka Penninsula in north east Siberia. The plant can survie minus 40 Celcius and the flowers which are borne in Spring will tolerate frosty conditions as cold as minus 8 Celcius.

I first came across the plant in Finland, or rather in a book written by a Finn, Lief Blomqvist. In his book Puutarhan marjat (Garden Berries) he inspires me with his amazing range of edible berries which they grow in Finland. The book is written in Finnish, my wife Hanna translates for me. He also runs a nursery north of Vaasa, which apart from stocking perennials and shrubs, stocks old, rare and winter hardy (in mid-Finland) apple varieties and unusual fruit and berrying plants. We visited his nursery last summer and were amazed by the range of plants on offer, especially the fruits.

Each summer when we return from Finland, we do so with a few plants in our suitcases, we usually have to post home dirty laundry! The first time our luggage contained two sea buckthorns, Hippophae rhamnoides, ‘Rudolf” and ‘Raisa’, male and female. Despite being stripped of their rootball clothing of potting compost they established well and last summer after three years, we enjoyed out first crop of berries.

Varieties of  mock orange Philadelphus ‘Erectus’, sand cherry, Prunus pumila and of course Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica have been among the many to make the southern journey in August every year since. The Lonicera has started to fruit well this year. It produces fruits about 1cm long hidden amongst the foliage. The fruit ripen early, before any of the other bush fruit and the taste similar to blueberries.

The plants grow about the same size as black currants, about 1.5m and live for about 30 years, although it is said that their peak production is on plants that are between 7 and 15 years old. Cross pollination between two cultivars, like blueberries, provides larger crops. Unlike blueberries, this relative of the honeysuckle does not require acid soil conditions. They grow best in a sunny position and any soil that is not very wet.

Apart from their excellent flavour, the fact that they fruit early is a hugely positive characteristic, they fruit at the same time as strawberries, before currants and gooseberries. We have one plant without a cultivar name with hairy foliage, the first that we purchased. The following year we got L. caerulea var. kamtschatica ‘Duet’. L.’ Duet’ has not fruited well as yet, there was an issue about weed competition, but the other unnamed plant has fruited quite well. The latest addition is L.’Gerda’ which is said to have really big fruits, we wait patiently for its large sized bounty next year. About five weeks ago I took some cuttings of a plant from my mothers garden, an un-named cultivar and they have rooted well.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

The flowers are small, borne in pairs in the leaf axils and are in bloom very early in the year. Although cross pollination is said to produce better crops, our plants are flowering at different times, perhaps this is the reason that ‘Duet’ is not producing well. Next year with L. ‘Gerda’ for company and plants raised from cuttings we should have the flowering seasons well covered and we can look forward to bumper crops…maybe enough for jam, honey berry jam, sounds nice!

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – mashed and sugared , a fresh jam on home made bread – delicious!

2 Comments to “Honey Berry, Siberian Blue Berry – Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica”

  1. I planted two varieties in my backyard at Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We are a Zone 3. I understand there might be ‘bird problems’.

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