Plant Profile: Lonicera involucrata

by Veronica Wisniewski, Fourth Corner Nurseries

Lonicera involucrata

Common Names: Black Twinberry, Inkberry, Grizzly Berry, Fly Berry

Pollination: Insect (Bee flies, bees and butterflies) and hummingbird pollinated.

Culture: Tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, twinberry’s only real requirement is watering until it is established. As a plant most commonly found in moist to swampy areas, moist conditions will extend the blooming season and berry production.

Notes: I am out collecting twinberries for seed, the shrubs are fat with berries and I am raking them into a bucket like a bear in a ripe huckleberry patch. The mewing of waxwings gives way to their scolding. I realize that I am the target of their displeasure. Overhead, a gaudy orange rufous hummingbird dives, pauses at apogee to buzz out a call in a version of cruising the supermarket, in this case nectar rich flowers, for an attractive female.

For people looking to attract wildlife to their yards, there is no need to look further than planting a twinberry bush. Names suggestive of maurading bears, notwithstanding, twinberry is particularly interesting to a diversity of birds.

As the thunderheads are nudged from the shores of Ten Mile Lake in British Columbia by the evening sun, light glistens off the inky twinberries and the birds appear in droves anxiously foraging in the waning daylight. The place is bird heaven – thrushes, warblers, tanagers and ducks abound and I am struck by the competition for the abundant twinberry bushes. Western tanagers are chased away by Swainson’s thrushes and robins, even as spotted towhees and Hermit thrushes furtively snatch berries off the plants. Yellowthroats, pipits and magnolia warblers snatch an occasional insect as they forage their way through the nearby willows and aspens searching for caterpillars.

With its large glossy green leaves, twinberry makes a bold statement in the landscape. If it still doesn’t seem worthy of a place in the garden, or for the dark haired amongst us consider the ancient use as a hair tonic to forestall graying…

A gracious gentleman asks me to dance at swing practice; he looks at my hands and remarks that I must work outside, in contrast to other partners. A bit embarrassed I look down, my hands are rough and blue-black from cleaning twinberry all week. It will take a week for the color to wash away.