Growth of Lonicera caerulea across fertility and moisture conditions: comparisons with Lonicera villosa and invasive congeners.
Several species of honeysuckle from Europe and Asia have proved to be invasive in North America, with substantial impacts on native ecosystems. Although shrubby honeysuckles of Eurasian origin have appeared on banned plant lists in North America and other parts of the world, cultivars of the edible blue honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea L.) derived from Eurasian germplasm and marketed as honeyberry, Haskap, or sweetberry honeysuckle have recently been widely developed for agricultural use in North America, with little scrutiny of invasive potential in North America despite its documented invasion of the Scandinavian Peninsula in northern Europe. To gain insight into differences in growth strategies among congeners, we compared the growth of Eurasian L. caerulea with that of a closely related congener in North America [Lonicera villosa (Michx.) R. & S.] and two known invasive congeners from Eurasia (Lonicera tatarica L. and Lonicera xylosteum L.). In Expt. 1, L. villosa, L. caerulea and L. tatarica were grown in #1 nursery containers after top-dressing with Osmocote Pro 17-5-11 4-month controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) at rates of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 g CRF/container. Across all fertilizer treatments, L. caerulea outperformed L. villosa by a factor of two for root and shoot dry weights, although L. tatarica produced more growth than either of the others and was more responsive to increasing CRF. However, L. caerulea more strongly resembled L. tatarica in form, producing leaves of greater individual size and producing significantly taller primary stems than L. villosa, evidence for prioritization of competitive growth. In Expt. 2, plants of the Same taxa plus L. xylosteum were grown communally in #20 nursery containers, followed by a period in which each container was subjected to regular irrigation, withheld irrigation (dry treatment), or inundation (flooded treatment). Plant growth differed substantially among taxa, but moisture treatments did not affect growth significantly. As in Expt. 1, plants of L. caerulea in Expt. 2 produced greater dry biomass than plants of L. villosa and resembled the invasive Eurasian honeysuckles more strongly in size and form. We conclude Eurasian L. caerulea is distinct in growth rate and morphology from North American L. villosa. In light of these findings, the ecology and competitive ability of Eurasian L. caerulea may not be well predicted by ecological observations of its closely related North American congener.