It is a deciduous shrub growing to 1.5-2 m tall. The leaves are opposite, oval, 3-8 cm long and 1-3 cm broad, glaucous green, with a slightly waxy texture. The flowers are yellowish-white, 12-16 mm long, with five equal lobes; they are produced in pairs on the shoots. The fruit is a blue berry about 1 cm diameter.
- Lonicera caerulea var. altaica. Northern Asia.
- Lonicera caerulea var. caerulea. Europe.
- Lonicera caerulea var. cauriana. Western North America.
- Lonicera caerulea var. dependens. Central Asia.
- Lonicera caerulea var. edulis. Eastern Asia.
- Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx (also known as Haskap). Eastern Asia.
- Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica. Northeastern Asia.
- Lonicera caerulea var. pallasii. Northern Asia, northeastern Europe.
- Lonicera caerulea var. villosa/em>. Eastern North America.
Cultivation and uses
Common names for Lonicera caerulea include:Haskap: an ancient Japanese name of the Ainu people (also spelled phonetically as Haskappu, Hascap, Hascup)but still used today in Japan and in North America. Blue Honeysuckle: descriptive translation from Russia. Honeyberry: coined by Jim Gilbert of One Green World Nursery, Oregon. This term is fairly common in North America. Sweet Berry Honeysuckle: an old common name from the 1940s. Swamp fly honeysuckle: a common name coined by botanists who found it growing in swampy areas. It is known in Russia as “Жимолость съедобная” (“Edible Honeysuckle”).
Russia has the longest history of collecting from the wild and breeding this crop. L. c. var. edulis has been used the most in their breeding efforts but other varieties have been bred with it to increase productivity and flavour. In Japan (Hokkaido Island) and in the Oregon State University Haskap breeding programs, L.c. var. emphyllocalyx has been the dominant variety used. The University of Saskatchewan Breeding Program in Canada is also emphasizing L.c. var. emphyllocalyx but is also hybridizing with Russian varieties and L.c. var. villosa
Natural habitat The species is circumpolar, primarily found in or near wetlands of boreal forests in heavy peat soils. But it can also be found in high calcium soils, in mountains, and along the northeast coasts of Asia and North America. Interestingly it is absent on west coasts. It has not been found in Norway nor Alaska nor British Columbia.
The better ones have been described as similar to raspberries, blueberries, black currents,or Saskatoon berries. Bad ones can taste grassy or bitter (like tonic water). However, even the good ones will taste bad if eaten too early. Ornamental varieties were bred at Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada in the mid 1940’s which tasted horrible and were never intended to be eaten. Berries will turn blue on the outside before they are fully ripe inside. If green inside, it is not ripe; it should be a deep purple red inside.
Uses and Fruit Quality:
It can be used in processed products: pastries, jams, juice, wine, ice cream, yogurt, sauces, and candies.
When frozen fruit is placed in the mouth it melts away. Seeds aren’t noticeable when eating but if you look for them you will see they are practically the same size and shape as those found in kiwi fruit. The skins simply disintegrate which has caused some excitement amongst ice cream and smoothie makers. The fruit also turns dairy products into a bright purple-red. It can make excellent wine, some say similar to grape or cherry wine. The wine will be a rich burgundy colour. Its juice has perhaps 10 to 15x more concentrated color than cranberry juice.
Cultivation Within-row spacing is recommended at 1 meter if you want the plants to grow into a hedge. At 1.5 meters they would probably remain as individual bushes for many years. Plants will grow to be 1.5 to 2 meters tall and wide. Haskap adapted to a wide range of pH, between 5 and 8. They prefer high organic matter, well drain soils, and lots of sunlight for optimum productivity. They are more tolerant of wet conditions than most fruit species. Harvest season can be 2 weeks before strawberries for Russian type varieties but Japanese types will ripen at a similar time to Strawberries. 2 compatible varieties are needed for cross pollination and fruit set. This is a northern adapted species that can tolerate -45C/F temperatures in winter. In North America most Russian varieties are adapted to Hardiness zones 1 to 4. Likely gardeners living in zone 5 and 6 would need to use Japanese type varieties which are far less likely to try to grow during warm periods during winter. But the southern range of where this plant could be grown is not yet known. Often it will fruit the following season after being planted, even if very small. Perhaps by the 3rd year 1 pound (1/2kg) may be harvested. But the plants may take 5 or 6 years to obtain full size. Average production on a good bush has been about 7 lbs (3 kg) in Japan.