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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae)

The Honeysuckle family includes five genera and about 210 species. Most are found in the Americas and in Eurasia where many are Mediterranean plants. Most are hardy shrubs and vines. We will treat all of the plants shown here as Caprifoliaceae,  but it should be noted that five genera and approximately 245 species were recently assigned to the Moschatel (Adoxaceae) family. These, including elderberries and viburnums, are mostly found in more temperate climates, as far north as the arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The members of these two families have flowers with five petals joined to form a basal tube, and five sepals. The leaves are mostly opposite and lack petioles (stemlets). Twinned flowers and fruit are common. Caprifoliaceae, the honeysuckle family’s scientific name, was derived from an old word “caprifoil” used for the European honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum. Caprifoil, in turn, came from the Latin caprifolium, a word derived from the Latin caper for “goat” and folium for “leaf.” Twinflower (Linnaea borealis L., not shown), a creeping evergreen subshrub that grows in our northern mountains, was long included in the honeysuckle family; it is now assigned to its own family, Linnaeaceae.

Western black elder, Sambucus racemosa L. var. melanocarpa (A. Gray) McMinn (left and right), and Western blue elder, Sambucus cerulea Raf. (left and right, below). These two western elders grow as shrubs or small trees. The plants are quite similar. Both are native to most of our western states and Canadian provinces. Elders prefer stream banks and permanently moist areas, growing as high as the subalpine zone. Their compound leaves are odd pinnate, each has seven, stemless, toothed leaflets. The flower clusters of the two species differ slightly. The black elder has cone-shaped clusters, whereas blue elder’s flower cluster is flat-topped.

(Continued) The color of their fruit is reflected in their names; the varietal name of the western black elder, melanocarpa, means “black fruit” (above right) The species name of the blue elder, cerulea, means blue for the color of the fruit (right). The name, Sambucus, is the Latin name for an Old World elder; the species name racemosa was derived from “raceme,” a botanical term for a flower cluster that blooms from the bottom upward. Elderberries ripen in late summer and may be used to make jellies and wine.

Utah honeysuckle, Lonicera utahensis S. Watson. (left. right) The Utah honeysuckle grows in the mountains of Idaho from mid-elevation nearly to treeline. Its small flowers (left) are neatly paired and their ovaries mature into two red berries  (right) that sometimes fuse into hourglass-shaped fruit. An attractive shrub, it is often used in ornamental landscaping. Lewis and Clark collected a specimen of the Utah honeysuckle, most likely while ascending the North Fork of the Salmon River, on September 2, 1805.

Twinberry, Lonicera involucrata (Richardson) Banks ex Spreng. (left, right) The twinberry is a shrub found along water courses as high as the subalpine zone. Inconspicuous twinned yellow flowers (left) appear in the spring and by mid-summer paired, inedible, blue-black berries (right) have formed above two red leaves, or “bracts.” These leaves are known as an “involucre” from which the plant derives its species name. Under favorable conditions turn a bright waxy scarlet as in our illustration. The genus Lonicera—which takes its name from Adam Lonitzer (1528-1586), a German botanist—consists of about 180 species. Meriwether Lewis collected this plant near today’s misnamed Lewis and Clark Pass (“misnamed” because only Lewis crossed the pass. William Clark was far to the south, heading for the three forks of the Missouri River and from there to the Yellowstone River) on the continental divide in Montana during the expedition’s return journey (July 7, 1806).

Trumpet honeysuckle Lonicera ciliosa, (Pursh) Poir. ex DC. (left). The attractive, orange-flowered trumpet honeysuckle vine is often seen growing along roadsides and trails to montane elevations. It is identified by its clustered, bright orange, trumpet-shaped flowers and by a pair of joined opposing leaves just below the flower cluster through which the stem passes. The plant was unknown to science until Lewis and Clark returned to the United States with a dried specimen that they had collected on June 5, 1806, while camped on the Clearwater River near today’s Kamiah, Idaho close to where this plant was photographed.
Common snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus (L.) S. F. Blake var. laevigatus S. F. Blake (Rydb.) A. Nels.  (left, right). The common snowberry grows at mid-elevations. It was unknown to science until collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition, probably somewhere along the Missouri River on an unknown date. The snowberry been used as an ornamental shrub almost from the time the explorers’ specimen (dried fruit) grew out from their seeds, planted in Philadelphia.  The mushy white berries have no food value.

The Mountain Snowberry, Symphorocarpus oreophilus var. utahensis (left, right) replaces the common snowberry at higher altitudes. It is found all along our hiking trails, and is easily recognized by its distinctive soft blue-green oval leaves. In late spring  the shrubs bear small white tubular flowers, often in pairs, with petals that flare out a bit at the end (left). The generic name Symphoricarpos is derived from two Greek words that mean "fruit that is born together" in pairs.. The species name oreophilus also is from the Greek and means "mountain lover." This plant's berries (right) are smaller and oval in shape compared to those of the common snowberry.

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