Edible Blue Honeysuckle or Honeyberry or Haskap

ChiloquinNews article 8/22/2011

They’ve been eaten for centuries in Asia and Eastern Europe, but are only recently catching on in North America. They make an excellent alternative to blueberries, which require acid soil and are hard to grow in Chiloquin, while honeyberries thrive on soils that are naturally alkaline, which is what we have. The flavor, which is hard to describe is much more pronounced and mostly more tart than blueberry, but whatever you do with a blueberry, you can do with a honeyberry. You do need a named variety for best flavor. Instant gratification is not usually associated with gardening, but this plant tends to fruit when very young, is the earliest fruit to ripen in spring, doesn’t sucker, has no thorns, needs little pruning in early years, is a pretty shrub and does not have any insect or disease pests.

I mentioned in an earlier article that I had a ‘Blue Moon’ late blooming honeyberry plant, but that a gopher had eaten the second variety needed for pollination. So last year I bought a second second variety, named Kamchatka, which supposedly was a late bloomer, only to find that it really is an early bloomer. My Blue Moon was covered with flowers this spring, but I didn’t get a single berry because there was nothing to pollinate it, although Kamchatka must be somewhat self-fertile because I did get a few fruits from it. Today I decided to search the web for information about bloom times so that this time when I buy the third second variety there will be no mistakes.  Many hours later I’m confused enough that I’m writing this article, as much as to tell you about this plant, as to sort it all out in my mind. It appears that not everything you read on the internet is true….

This I know for sure. There are early and late blooming varieties of Lonicera caerulea.  Whichever you buy, they will all bloom in Chiloquin before the last hard freeze of spring, but it doesn’t matter!  The flowers can survive a hard freeze and still produce fruit. This is the ideal fruit for Chiloquin. You do need two plants that bloom at the same time in order to get fruit. Bees are the main pollinators, especially bumble bees and native bees that fly at lower temperatures than honeybees, so from that point of view it might be wiser to go for later blooming varieties when the bees are more likely to be about. There are nine varieties, or subspecies, but most information available is on just three of these.

Kamchatka honeysuckle Lonicera caerulea var.camtschatica, grows in cold areas of Siberia: Sachalin, an island in the Sea of Okhotsk off the SE coast of Russia north of Japan, and the Kamchatka Peninsula, a 780 mile peninsula in the Russian Far East. These areas receive up to 110 inches of precipitation/year, so your blue honeysuckle will need to be well-watered in summer in Chiloquin. There are several cultivars of Kamchatka, but my plant label didn’t give any cultivar information. Everything I read on the web said that it would bloom at the same time as ‘Blue Moon’. Not so. Must have had the wrong cultivar.

The term honeyberry, for Lonicera caerulea var. edulis was coined by Jim Gilbert of One Green World nursery in Oregon, who brought back plants found growing in eastern Russia near Vladivostok. The late blooming cultivars developed from the Russian plants are Blue Velvet™, Blue Moon™, Blue Forest™, and Blue Pacific™. You can mail order these pants from http://www.onegreenworld.com/.

Haskap berries Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx are native to Hokkaido, the northern Island of Japan, and is the name the native Ainu people gave these berries. They are adapted to slightly milder climates than the Russian varieties, and purportedly have the best flavor. The Canadians have run with haskaps, encouraging commercial plantings and developing many cultivars. The University of Saskatchewan and Oregon State University both have extensive breeding programs, but while calling them haskaps (to denote their superior flavor), the Canadians actually began by developing cultivars of Lonicera caerulea var. edulis, not Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx (confused yet?)  You can mail order these cultivars from http://www.honeyberryusa.com/. I think the true Japanese haskap cultivars from OSU are not available yet.

Well, whatever the origin, get yourself a couple of bushes. They are the perfect berry plant for Chiloquin.

Spring 2013 Update

The four honeyberry plants that I got from Honeyberry USA are doing superbly! They came as tiny little things in the fall of 2011, and now have overwintered in the ground twice. This spring they were all covered in flowers and I have berries! Still green, but it won’t be long…. They are also nice size bushes now. Interesting was that although these are all ‘early flowering’ varieties, they weren’t that much ahead of Blue Moon. Needless to say the ‘Blue Forest’ that I got to pollinate Blue Moon flowered along with the haskaps, but fortunately there was enough overlap that Blue Moon has set some fruit.

Tundra honeyberry 4-27-2012

Tundra honeyberry

Tundra honeyberry 4-28-2013

Tundra honeyberry


4 thoughts on “Edible Blue Honeysuckle or Honeyberry or Haskap

  1. Good info, Joans. I just bought 3 shrubs from guy in Nova Scotia and he names it ‘haskapa’. They suggested that you need at least 2 varieties for pollination, but 3 even better. According to seller – planting space shout be between 3.5 and 4 feet.

  2. Thanks for helping to sort out the confusion. We want to plant several along a chain link fence so I’m trying to get all the information I can to make the best decision about varieties. Do you know if there are any varieties that are more like a vine than a shrub?

    • I think they are all shrubs of varying heights, the main difference being when they flower. In warmer places, like coastal Oregon, the early flowering varieties are likely to flower way early – before there are many pollinating insects about. My early flowering varieties in Chiloquin, where nights are still well below freezing, are just opening flowers now, along with the grape hyacinths, but before the ornamental quince.

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