February seems an odd time of year to be talking about our native honeysuckle (lonicera periclymenum). It is on a warm summer’s evening when the sight and scent of this attractive woody climber is more likely to catch our attention. However, honeysuckle is one of the first deciduous hedgerow and woodland plants to stir. Sometimes as early as December, and certainly by February, its pale blue-green pairs of leaves, set tight to the stem, start to appear.

Honeysuckle is sometimes called woodbine, an accurate description of how the plant wraps its pliable young stems in a clockwise direction around suitable trees and shrubs. Numerous day-flying and nocturnal insects are attracted by the sweet scent of the flowers and for the White Admiral butterfly honeysuckle is the primary larval foodplant. In late summer and autumn the red berries provide a feast for birds such as thrushes. Dormice are also closely associated with honeysuckle, they use the stripped bark to weave their nests and the flowers provide a sugary energy snack.

So, when you are next out and about, look for the first signs of life amongst the dormant twigs of our hedgerows as the honeysuckle reminds us that spring really can’t be far away!

Illustration by Joanna Uglow