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Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007


Risesuteria (Himalaya honeysuckle)

A bird singing, While the Red berries fall.

By Masaoka Shiki (1866-1902)

Last year I planted a young Himalaya honeysuckle in a warm corner of the garden, and already it has grown into a beautiful shrub standing more than 2 meters tall. Its arching, sea-green stems are a haven for wildlife: In summer, bees and butterflies feed on the flowers, and in autumn the sweet berries are a feast for birds. At first sight this exotic shrub looks like a species of bamboo; it is, however, a distant cousin of the twining honeysuckle. It has hollow stems and its leaves are arranged in pairs, poised like wings in flight. Throughout summer the plant bears small green panicles consisting of bracts and white, bell-like flowers. In autumn the bracts change from pale green to plum-red, and the ripening berries turn wine-red then purple-black (as above). These lovely pendants look like exotic temple bells, which is appropriate because the shrub is native to the Himalayas and Tibet. It arrived in England in 1824, where it was prized as a rare Oriental shrub. It was also grown on aristocrats' country estates to feed game birds such as pheasants — hence its other name of "pheasant berry." Its botanical name, Leycesteria formosa, refers to William Leycester, Britain's chief justice of Bengal in the 1820s, while formosa means "beautiful."

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