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Fragrant honeysuckle
Published on: Sunday, October 10, 2021
By: Eskay Ong
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NOTHING beats the cultivation of plants that produce fragrant flowers when it comes to getting busy in the garden or in the outdoor green spaces.  It creates a very relaxing and comfortable feeling which can be considered as a reward from nature for anyone who cares to potter around with plants.  

Anyone who is passing by a tantalisingly perfumed area is likely to leave behind his bottle or cuppa so that he can quickly turn around to catch a whiff of the fragrance for fear a gentle gust could dissipate them.

Within the local gardening scenario can be found many varieties of plants whose flowers emit an aroma that may either be sweet and endearing such as with jasmine flowers, or nauseating and repelling as can be found in the hardly-seen giant rafflesia flowers of which Sabah is well-blessed with many of them.  

Such extremes in the degree of fragrance can be said to range from sweet-smelling and people-friendly to the stinking and revolting, similarities of which are plentiful in other life forms including human beings.  

Among the lovely sweet-smelling plants that are often seen in or around KK city or in towns all over Sabah, one of the most outstanding ones is called Lonicera japonica of the family Caprifoliaceae.   

The plant is also known as Golden-and-Silver Honeysuckle, Japanese Honeysuckle, or simply Honeysuckle as known to local folks.  It is a climbing vine that is capable of growing to a height of 10-12 metres or more under unpruned conditions, especially with fine climatic conditions as can be found locally.  

As the plant advances in age, the lower sections become very woody and tough which allows it to sustain further advancement in height without problem.  If properly arched, such a structure is perfect for the creation of a fragrant canopy, which, honestly speaking, is awfully lacking and desperately wanting in the whole of Sabah.

It is to be noted that the fragrance of honeysuckles are quite different from the aroma that issues from odoriferous plants such as Coleus amboinicus which is commonly known as aromatic soup mint plant.  The latter packs more punch as it smells minty and sharp over just about the whole plant right down to the roots, and more so when the succulent leaves and stems are crushed to release a fair amount of plant juice.  

On the other hand, the fragrance of honeysuckles is never too strong nor overwhelming as it is forever alluring, tempting, sweet and disarming.

Many other plants and their saps or juices may carry a lime smell such as in pomelos, and yet there some others that may be a complete turn-off. 

The surprises are simply endless if one cares to turn into the storehouse of nature to seek, learn, taste, smell and take in the sights and air while frolicking in nature’s garden, provided it is safe from animal, insect and perhaps human pests too.  

There are plenty of natural green lungs within a pleasant, unhurried 30-45 minutes’ drive from KK, and as such, a weekend visit should be quite enjoyable if the present pandemic situation permits.

Originating in Eastern Asia, honeysuckles have been cultivated all over Asia and South East Asia for centuries for their ornamental and medicinal benefits.  

Following the colonisation of many countries in Asia by westerners during the last couple of centuries, countless numbers of local assets, plants and other flora and fauna materials were taken to the west from which they were put to serve their new world.  

Unfortunately, many of such introductions ended up to be more pain than gain by becoming very invasive and pestilent. Nevertheless, many other introduced varieties have turned out to be windfalls and thus helped greatly in boosting their economies.

Advantages of cultivating honeysuckles

Every plant provides generous levels of benefits and enjoyment to anyone who chooses to cultivate it.  And if it well maintained, the plant is definitely able to dish out much joy for a long period of time.  

Overall, plants ranging from ground-hugging lichens and mosses to the tall gigantic trees in the forests, are great benefactors of the world.  The opposite is true of animals including the four and two-legged ones.

For instance, honeysuckles are usually cultivated as an ornamental. This is where most of the ecstatic yelps of joy are from especially when it comes to the flowering stage. The plant is perfect when set in a beautiful pot of size 30cm diameter from which it can be easily controlled to reach about a metre in height.  With judicious pruning, the result should be a compact, fairly tall stand of multiple flowering shoots with plenty of green leaves and flowers.

Come flowering time, the pot can be shifted indoors for the hundreds of blooms to release their sweetly-scenting floral fragrance which has the power to permeate entire rooms and halls if sufficient numbers of such potted wonders can be made available.  

In this respect, it is not too much to expect a raise or promotion from satisfied bosses made happy by the power of fragrance.

When cultivated on the ground, it is usually the external grounds that can be used. Under such circumstances, the plant can be trained to grow tall and if given free rein, it may even achieve its maximum height.  

Of course, growing a tall honeysuckle on the ground outdoors require some effort to support its upward growth as it takes a long time for the stem to thicken and harden.  

Only when the main stem has become hard and woody can it stand on its own, but even that does not ensure the distal branches and new shoots do not need some form of support or stringing.  

For the hard work, being able to see tall and spreading honeysuckles in the garden with hundreds of whitish-yellow flowers is enough reward, what more when the atmosphere is saturated with their sweet fragrance especially during the evenings.

Honeysuckle flowers produce a sweet nectar which attracts birds and bees.  This is the reward for spreading pollen around and thus helping to do some pollination work.  Flowers can be harvested, dried and then used to prepare a fragrant tea.  

This is usually done by pouring scalding hot water into a tea pot that contains some dried honeysuckle flowers, in the same way that normal tea such as green tea or oolong tea is prepared.  

A waiting time of 10-15 minutes should be sufficient to yield a wonderful drink with a light golden colour. It is believed the tea is capable of getting rid of excessive body heat, reduces headaches, and so on.

Alternatively, the flowers may be used to scent up baths, linen stores, wardrobes and rooms. Better still, when a couple of pots of the plant in full bloom is brought in, the fragrance can be so pervasive as to loosen up all in the room and relaxing every shred of muscle.

The leaves of honeysuckle plants can be harvested, cleaned and then boiled for about 15 minutes, with the ratio of volume of leaves to water being 1:4.  When the decoction is cooled, it can be used as a mouth wash or gargle to reduce or get rid of revolting odour emanating from the mouth, with no limit on the number of times this method can be used per day.

Considering that honeysuckle products have been used for thousands of years in Asia and is still widely used, it can therefore be easily found in all kinds of forms and packings in herbalist or traditional Chinese medicine stores, with even free advice thrown in by respectable singsangs. 

Propagation and maintenance

There a few ways to go about propagating honeysuckle plants, with the most common method being vegetative propagation.  This involves taking terminal of mid-section stem cuttings which are then inserted into a suitable rooting medium. The process may take from three to four weeks before signs of new roots forming can be seen.

The use of rooted runners is also a breeze since many of the new growths have a tendency to slouch and droop down towards the ground. When these come into contact with the soil, many of the nodes may begin to grow new shoots.  

In time, both the new top growth and root growth become vigorous and firm.  When this happens, the section may be cut and dug out with a trowel and then transplanted into a proper pot or polybag.

Sometimes, underground rhizomes are formed partly to store food and partly as a safeguard against adverse weather conditions such as a prolonged drought.  

Climatic changes may affect the entire plant with the result that these structures may help to regenerate new plants to prolong its lifespan.  Young plants from such rhizomes are also easy to remove and they establish easily wherever they are planted. 

However, the most natural method is via seedage whereby mature black seeds may be scattered to germinate wherever the growing conditions permit.  Sometimes birds also help to spread the seeds and in so doing, new plants are started further and further from the parent plant.

Being a climbing vine, honeysuckles are easy to control regardless of whether they are intended to grow upwards, in sideway spreads, or in downward cascades.  In this respect, some twist ties or cable ties, some raffia strings and a sharp pruning shear should greatly lighten the work, plus of course, a couple of cuppas kopi-O kaw-kaw or bottles of your favourite tipple.

 

A wall of Lonicera japonica spreading and clinging onto a chain-link fence.

 

A truss of young flower buds. Note that they are all pubescent including the leaves and stems. 

A pair of green fruits waiting to ripen, but they are neither mangoes nor gooseberries.

 

A repurposed coconut husk serving a very beneficial function. Can save some money too.

A hanging pot with a thin cascade of honeysuckles. In time, the cascade should become very dense with a full and thick complement of fragrant flowers. 

A large cluster of sweet-smelling flowers.  

A young plant that has been successfully rooted recently.  

Young flowers are invariably white in colour, but they will turn into a yellowish-orange colour as they age, with some wrinkles and crimples here and there.





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