A deciduous shrub, growing on basic or neutral soils in woodland, hedgerows and scrub, generally occurring in small populations. Lowland.
L. xylosteum was being cultivated in Britain by 1683. First recorded in the wild as a casual in 1770, it has been known from the chalk scarp of the South Downs near Amberley (W. Sussex) since 1801, where it grows in ancient woodland, hedgerows or scrub. Although arguably native at these localities, it is more likely to be an introduction (Webb, 1985). It was lost before 1930 from many sites where it is an undoubted garden escape.
A Eurosiberian Temperate species; widely naturalised outside its native range.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 242
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 16
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: 0.58
RDB Species Accounts
Lonicera xylosteum L. (Caprifoliaceae)
Fly honeysuckle, Gwyddfid Syth
Status in Britain: ENDANGERED.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
L. xylosteum is accepted as a possible native along a few km of the South Downs chalk scarp near Amberley and Storrington in West Sussex (FitzGerald 1988c; Hall 1980), where it was first recorded in 1801 by William Borrer. All the West Sussex sites are on the chalk in ancient woodlands and hedgerows, or in old scrub within species-rich chalk turf. In several places the plants are close to old trackways, which often retain a relict woodland flora. These woodlands contain much Fraxinus excelsior, often as large coppiced stools, with many shrubs including Corylus avellana, Crataegus monogyna, Euonymus europaeus, Viburnum lantana and V. opulus. The ground flora typically includes Mercurialis perennis, and other ancient woodland indicators such as Adoxa moschatellina, Anemone nemorosa, Campanula trachelium, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Lamiastrum galeobdolon, Primula vulgaris and Sanicula europaea. Of particular interest is the presence, at one site, of native Tilia platyphyllos in the form of groups of trunks growing from ancient coppice stools close to L. xylosteum bushes. C.D.Pigott (in litt.) notes that these two species are frequently associated in chalk woodlands in France.
It forms a loose, non-climbing, deciduous bush, normally 1-2 metres high, but sometimes exceeding 3 metres. The flowers appear in May, and berries are produced in abundance during the summer. However, there is little evidence of regeneration from seed, and spread seems to be mainly by layering. The young stems are upright, but mature branches tend to sprawl over, rooting at the nodes and giving rise to clusters of bushes which can form extended colonies.
The West Sussex population consists of about 120 plants, almost all of them mature. Other sites of interest in south-east England where L. xylosteum might also be native include a small woodland near Wilmington, East Sussex, which is similar in character to the West Sussex locations. In 1901, it was recorded scattered throughout that wood, but it is now reduced to one large plant. There is also a group of sites near Godalming, where this species has been known for more than 150 years, some of the bushes here being notably large. Elsewhere in Britain, plants are considered to be either direct introductions or bird-sown from cultivated stock: indeed, the species has been in cultivation since at least the late seventeenth century. Although most sites have statutory protection, local damage has occurred during the past ten years from excessive poaching by cattle and from woodland clearance.
L. xylosteum occurs throughout much of Europe, extending from southern Scandinavia to Spain and Sicily, and from France through central and eastern Europe to western Siberia.
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.