Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) is an erect to scraggly shrub that can grow up to 10 feet in height. This perennial native of Northern and Western North America belongs to the Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae). Its ecology is moist forest clearings, streamsides and swampy areas up to 9,500 feet.
The young twigs are four-angled in cross section. The opposite twinberry leaves are deciduous, entire, elliptical to lance-shaped, pointed and often hairy underneath.
The tubular twinberry flowers have five lobes and occur in pairs in the leaf axils. Yellow to red-tinged, the flowers are surrounded by large, green to purplish bracts. The twinned fruits are shiny black berries containing several small seeds and are also cupped by 2 pairs of deep purplish to maroon bracts. The species designation comes from the Latin word “involucrata”, meaning wrapper, and refers to the bracts around the fruit and flowers.
Native Americans utilized bark and twig preparations to treat digestive tract ailments and as a contraceptive. The bitter twinberry berries are not considered edible and some references classify them as poisonous. Indigenous people used the berries as a pigment and rubbed them on their scalps to keep hair from turning grey.
If twinberry use by humans is limited, animals and birds make extensive use of the plant. Another common name for L involucrata is bearberry honeysuckle because bears eat the berries, as do birds and small mammals. Deer browse the twigs and leaves while hummingbirds, moths and butterflies get nectar from the flowers.
Other colloquial names for this plant include coast twinberry and twinberry honeysuckle. Adam Loncier (1528 – 1585), a German doctor and herbalist, is honored by the genus name.
These photographs were taken in March and May at Dry Lagoon Beach (Humboldt Lagoon State Park), Tildon Regional Park (Berkeley) and Stony Brook Trail (Six Rivers National Recreational Area), all in California.