Species Spotlight – Diervilla sessilifolia

Diervilla sessilifolia

Start exploring the amazing features of this most-durable native honeysuckle shrub. Full-sun, vigorous, functional and totally suitable for any residential or corporate landscape

Diervilla sessilifolia is a long-overlooked, high-quality landscaping shrub suitable as garden accent, pollinator service, or workhorse functional hedgerow.  Diervilla sessilifolia, or southern bush honeysuckle, is a much more robust and useful species than its contemporary and very close cousins, Diervilla lonicera or northern bush honeysuckle and Diervilla rivularis or mountain bush honeysuckle.  These 3 species were clearly one single species in recent history as they are virtually indistinguishable in their specific features; what sets them apart are their tolerance of full-sun and challenging moisture conditions and their resulting heights.

Diervilla sessilifolia is fully capable of growing in full sun to 4-5′ tall in ample moisture conditions or to 18-24′ tall in low-moisture conditions.  It is also fully capable of creating attractive, contiguous hedgerows through the action of its copious seeds and vigorous roots.  Compare to Diervilla lonicera, which is really a woodland edge or woodland opening species, requiring stable moisture levels and typically growing only to 24-30″.  Diervilla rivularis is specially adapted to high-elevation conditions and its usefulness in the landscape remains untested.

We imagine that Diervilla sessilifolia is likely the original native bush honeysuckle given its vigor and status as a true full-sun shrub.  We also imagine that Diervilla lonicera drifted into its current role as an edge species given the pressure from post-glaciation forest development.  Diervilla rivularis adopted features, such as its short stature and hairy stems/leaves, to survive in extreme conditions.

The range map for Diervilla sessilifolia looks limited compared to Diervilla lonicera, but within its range it can and often is the dominant shrub in the landscape.  This is likely only due to the difficulty in establishing terminal forests within its range due to either thin soils, low rainfall, high wind, or other environmental condition.  We can safely and confidently report that Diervilla sessilifolia is thoroughly durable at least through zone 6B as we overwinter these shrubs in containers outside with no protection and they survive wonderfully.  We can also report that we have far fewer irrigation or other horticultural issues with Diervilla sessilifolia.  Diervilla sessilifolia can be found in woodland openings or along riparian areas as long as they are getting a full 6 hours of sun per day; these are NOT a shade-tolerant species.

ArcheWild started full production on this species in 2018 and expects to carry landscape-ready containers in a few years.

BEWARE of cultivars, which are simply clones of a stem cutting.  Diervilla sessilifolia has a strong genetic foundation and plants with red leaves, orange flowers, more flowers, or shorter stature are common in the wild.  For maximum vigor and long life in the garden, purchase seed-propagated plants and avoid the test-tube babies.  The ‘Butterfly’ cultivar is virtually indistinguishable from wild plants, in our opinion, and the variegated cultivar looks like you bought it at Lowe’s and hasn’t proven very durable.  So save your money and plant real plants from ArcheWild.

Peruse the gallery above to see a full collection of images.  Below are specific images highlighting specific features.

Diervilla sessilifolia natural hedgerows
Note the 4-5′ tall hedgerows on both sides

Diervilla sessilifolia short hedgerows in low-moisture conditions
Note the shorter stature under limited moisture

Diervilla sessilifolia heavy foliage and flowers
Dense foliage and heavy flower set

Diervilla sessilifolia strong pollinator attractor
Useful pollinator support species, particularly for bumblebees

Diervilla sessilifolia USDA range map.



Diervilla sessilifolia USDA range map


Diervilla lonicera USDA range map

All plant images © 2012-2017 ArcheWild.