Lonicera involucrata - black twinberry, bearberry honeysuckle

Family: Caprifoliaceae
Wetland Indictor Status: FAC+

General Species Description

Black twinberry is a greenish deciduous shrub or woody vine that grows to less than 2 meters tall. The branches are erect. The young twigs are green, four-angled and have long, hairy tips. Later, the bark turns reddish brown, finally appearing tan and peeling in strips. A bract surrounding both the paired flowers and fruits of this species gives rise to its scientific and common names and also serves as one of its most distinguishing features. There are 2 varieties of this species.


The leaves are simple and opposite and appear to be arranged in 4 axils when looking down at the branches. The leaves are also entire, elliptical (coming to a fine point), shiny, yellowish-green and feel thick and leathery. There are hairs along the leaf margins and there are often hairs beneath. Growing 5-8 cm long, the leaves have short reddish petioles with no stipules.


The yellow, tubular, 5-lobed flowers are paired in leaf axils and subtended by a single, enlarged (8-15 mm), thickened, 2-lobed purple-red bract. The 1-2 cm long flowers are borne on short stalks and there is a short spur at the base of each flower. Black twinberry blooms from April to August.


The paired fruits, still surrounded by the reddish-purple bracts are small, several-seeded berries turning black and shiny when ripe. The berries are bitter and not palatable. When the berries are gone, the bracts shrivel and turn brown.


This species is found in moist wooded areas, especially in clearings, roadsides and on the edges of wetlands. It is associated with shrub communities.


Black twinberry is a widespread species found in many parts of western North America. On the Pacific Coast, it is found as north as the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. It has a limited range in Alaska, found only near the forest edge on the shoreline of Kayak Island and in the Lynn Canal area. Locally, this species is more common at the coast, often within view of the ocean; it is rare in the Portland area.

Similar Species

Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) has similar looking bark and flowers, but has alternate leaves and no large involucral bracts subtending the flowers or fruits. The Utah honeysuckle (Lonicera utahensis), from the same genus, is a similar shrub but has more rounded leaves, and also lacks the distinctive bracts under its flowers and fruits.

Ecological Value

Deer browse the twigs and leaves. The berries are eaten by birds (especially grouse), bears, and other animals in large quantities. The peeling bark is used by birds and small mammals as nesting material. Hummingbirds pollinate black twinberry.

Human Value

Native peoples recognized that the berries are unpalatable and even considered them poisonous if more than two or three were eaten. There were even taboos against eating them and given names likes 'monster's food' and 'crow berry' by northwest native peoples. Native Americans used the berries in ceremonies. A decoction of the sticks and leaves was used externally for broken bones, aching muscles, sore glands, scabs, sores, and any part of the body that was swollen. Similar medicines were also used internally as a gargle for sore throats and a drink for bladder troubles, to induce vomiting, and as a source of vitamins. The bark and sap were mixed together into a plaster cast for broken bones. The Quileute and Kwakwaka'wakw peoples used the berries as a black pigment. The Haida rubbed the berries on the scalp to prevent hair from turning grey. Native peoples also used black twinberry bark strips, along with scorched willow bark, to weave clothing. Occasionally, honeysuckles (Lonicera species) are used as woody ornamentals.


Cooke, S. S., ed. 1997. A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwest Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society and Washington Native Plant Society. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle WA, 417pp.

Hitchcock, C. L. and A. Cronquist. 1973. Flora of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA, 730pp.

Parish, R., R. Coupe and D. Lloyd. 1996. Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia. Lone Star Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 463pp.

Pojar, J. and A. MacKinnon. 1994. Plants of Coastal British Columbia. Lone Star Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 527pp.

Turner, N. J., L. C. Thompson, M. T. Thompson and A. Z. York. 1990. Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC, 335pp.

Walters, D. R. and D. J. Keil. 1996. Vascular Plant Taxonomy, Fourth Edition. Kendall/Hunt Publishing, Dubuque, IO, 621pp.

This page was created by: Tasha Murray, August 2000

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