Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens): A Seasonal Look

Coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens), loved for its eye-popping clusters of pollinator-delighting blooms and its robust  demeanor in the garden, is a favorite perennial vine for many Texas gardeners.

This vertical loveliness is native to East Texas, Florida, with a northward range up the east coast of the United States, but is also found in many other parts of the continental United States.   Here in Central Texas (Austin, Zone 8b), Coral honeysuckle provides semi-evergreen color, punctuated by spring outbursts of gorgeous red blooms, with yellow interiors.

The bloom clusters remind me of a group of debutants, all in elegant, clingy red evening gowns, with an underneath peek-a-boo of yellow petticoats.

 

I’ve grown two of these vines in my garden.  This one in full sun,

…and this one in a mostly shade spot.

A May shot of a shady spot with blooming Coral honeysuckle anchoring the garden.  Aside from the bicycle, and (from left to right), grows Frostweed, Inland sea oats, and Turkscap.  Some Spiderwort are still popping with purple blooms.

The bulk of blooming occurs mid-to-late spring.   The flowers on my vines have bloomed as early as February, sometimes with continuous blooming into May.  Peak bloom time occurs during March and April, with a sprinkling of blooms in early summer.

An excellent climber–perfect for a trellis, arbor, or fence–Coral honeysuckle flowers more in full sun.

In woodland areas, it clamors over the ground as well as up trees and rocks.

Pollinators of all stripes, sizes, and colors flock to the tubular founts of pollen and nectar:

Nectar stealing Honeybee at top of bloom, with native Green Metallic bee (Halictidae) on left, toward back of bloom cluster.

Nectaring Metallic Green bee.

Horsefly-like Carpenter bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis).

Honeybee coming in for a meal.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the blooms, though I’ve never seen any at my blooms.   I suspect that there simply aren’t many (if any) hummers around during the peak bloom period in my garden as they don’t typically arrived back in Austin from Mexico and Central/South America.  That said, the tubular red blooms certainly fit the profile of hummingbird attracting flowers.

Additionally, this honeysuckle is the host plant for a butterfly, Spring Azure, (Celastrina ladon), and a moth, Snowberry clearwingHemaris diffinis.

Springtime sees the biggest burst of blooming, but sporadic clusters occur in summer as well, usually after a tropical rain event.

The vine maintains a lush, green presence throughout the summer months, requiring minimal water during the dry and hot of summer.  I irrigate in the hottest of the hot, during those months with nary a drop from the sky.

Coral honeysuckle is a water-wise addition to any garden.

 

I usually see the fruits of the Coral honeysuckle in summer and early autumn.

They must be yummy, because the fruits don’t last long on the vine.  Various birds enjoy the fruits and foliage protection from honeysuckle; I’ve seen Mockingbirds, Carolina Wrens, and other birds seek refuge–and probably snacks–in both of my vines.

Nascent coral honeysuckle fruits.

 

As summer segues into autumn, Coral honeysuckle continues its solid green contribution to the garden.

 

During winter the vine can freeze completely if the freeze is hard and long enough.

There are usually a few token leaves remaining.

More often than not, the foliage simply thins a bit, with some strands lacking foliage and the vine maintaining the majority of its leaves.

As the days grow longer and the temperatures warm, whatever foliage which quit the vine during winter’s freezes, return–lush and full and ready for the new growing season.

New Coral honeysuckle growth is exuberant–to the point that the fresh limbs reach to the sky in unwieldy growth spurts, requiring occaisional tucking in and twining around so as not to clamor over other things in their paths.

Additionally, emerging foliage and stems blush burgundy, augmenting the brilliancy of the blooms.

The crowning glory of this honeysuckle vine are the masses of bloom clusters which follow new spring growth.

Coral honeysuckle prefers well-draining soil and can develop powdery mildew if its feet are damp and the arms and legs of the vine congested.  That said, even in my clay soil and during the heaviest of flooding, I’ve never seen mildew on my leaves.  I mulch new plants, with a refresher of either commercial mulch or shredded leaves, as needed.  I water my vines, along with the gardens they’re a part of, during the dry of summer and prune bare strands when/if necessary.

I leave my vine as it is–a bit wild and wooly–so that birds can perch and hide, if someone scary (hawk, cat, gardener) comes near.  Coral honeysuckle isn’t invasive, it just requires a ‘haircut’ from time-to-time.  The oldest strands of vine are easily snapped off, making the work of pruning an easy task.  If you prefer a very tidy garden vine, Coral honeysuckle might prove a little feral for your taste.  But give it a chance: Coral honeysuckle’s beauty and hardiness make its mild rowdiness well worth the minimal shagginess.

My biggest complaint about Coral honeysuckle (and it’s not a complaint about the plant at all!) is that I don’t have enough room for more of these tough, pretty vines.  Gardeners appreciate the stalwart nature and beautiful blooms and foliage of this vine, wildlife appreciate its contributions to their safety and diet.

Coral honeysuckle:

The vine grows to the left of the Softleaf yucca.

 

Spring:

 

Summer and Autumn:

 

Winter:

Coral honeysuckle flanked by dormant Turkscap (right), Inland Sea Oats (bottom) and in-bloom bottle tree (left).

A water-wise, wildlife-friendly, and gardener-pleasing vine–you’ll be glad it grows in your garden!

26 thoughts on “Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens): A Seasonal Look

  1. Reading about all these plants that I have never grown can be frustrating! My garden can take nor more vines! This happens to be a vine that I first read about while in Oklahoma. It is very different from both the California native honeysuckle(s) (which are not much to look at) and the Japanese honeysuckle that I like so much because of the fragrance. What I find odd about the other honeysuckles is that no one mentions fragrance. To me, that is one of the main reasons to grow honeysuckle.

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    • I completely forgot to mention that this honeysuckle isn’t fragrant. I know the Japanese honeysuckle that you’re referring to. It’s considered invasive here; also, it doesn’t really handle our capricious weather very well–too hot, too cold (it’s in the 20s right now), periods of drought. Our native plants are much hardier. That said–I know what you mean about the fragrance and the Japanese honeysuckle fills the air beautifully!

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      • I sort of figured that if it were fragrant, you would have mentioned it. We certainly have prettier or more fragrant vines here, but something about that native of south Texas is alluring.

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      • It’s a great plant! There are other tidier vines, some of which are non-native (like Star jasmine (Trachelospemum jasminoides), and I like them very much–and those are wildly fragrant. But this morning (and the same will be true tomorrow) it’s 18 degrees and won’t be above freezing until mid-day. The jasmine will (most likely) die to the ground, but the native vine? No worries–all in a season’s work!

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    • Not invasive at all–just a little unruly once established. It’s 18 this morning; we didn’t have much precipitation, but there’s still ice in some spots. It’ll be interesting to see what comes through this hard freeze–we haven’t been this cold in about 8 years!

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  2. Tina her coral Honeysuckle is a marvel. The flowers have a beautiful color and are very large and in bunches: I love it. With so many flowers and flowers now pollinators have a raft of salvation in the middle of winter food. It is magnificent! The photos are divine. I like big Loniceras and that they flourish several times so that pollinators have more occasions to eat. I have two loniceras in my garden. The normal lonicera that gives yellow flowers perfumed since the beginning of spring and is refocusing until the frosts, is gigantic and uncontrollable but I do not prune it because it is the refuge of many birds that I see them leave it. The other lonicera is Lonicera japonica which also has two and sometimes three blooms and a wonderful aroma. It is also big and at its best, and it holds snow and ice all winter and when I see it in spring it has grown. Here a male Blackbird usually perches before starting to eat in the garden. Tina have a good week. Greetings from Margarita.

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    • Honeysuckle really is a wonderful plant in any garden. I know the Lonicera japonica and it does smell wonderful. For us, it blooms in May and June. My honeysuckle is not in bloom right now. Actually, nothing is: our temperature this morning was 18F (-7). You have a good week too, Margarita!

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  3. That photo at the top of your blog is a stunner. Is that a white cultivar of the honeysuckle, or a genetic oddity? The addition of the pink butterfly or moth, pinned to the plant like a broach, is gorgeous.

    Everyone loves the sweetly fragrant invasives, don’t they? It took me forever to figure out that the Japanese honeysuckle wasn’t a Texas native. (You’d think the name would be a clue.) But there are so many vines that really make a garden shine, and this is one of them. I’m sure I’ve seen it in the wild, too, back in my early plant-peering days. Then, I probably thought it was trumpet vine.

    We’ve still got ice where there’s any shade at all, and it’s going to be flat cold again tonight: After that? Into the sixties by the weekend — thank goodness.

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    • You gave me a start! I couldn’t figure out what white flower you were referring to–did I mess up and upload something without realizing? Are my proofreading skills so poor that I accidently included a photo of some plant that wasn’t a Coral honeysuckle. Afterall, I’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes like that! Then, it dawned: the header photos on my blog (6 of them) rotate and one of them is a photo of White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) with a Southern Pink Moth (Pyrausta inornatalis) attached. It’s possible that you’ve never seen that header, even though you might have clicked on the blog plenty of times. Actually, that’s one of my favorite photos, but no, it has nothing to do with the honeysuckle!

      You’re right that most people know the Japanese honeysuckle and it’s ubiquitous so many don’t realize that it’s not native. I had some along my back fence when we moved into this house. But over the years, it declined (though I still wack back some stubborn bits of it). It does smell wonderful, but I’ll take one of our native vines any old day!

      We’re still icy too, in shady spots. Interestingly, some of my Frostweed created more ice sculpturs–that was a surprise. I didn’t get any photos though, but I guess I could pop out now!

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      • That’s interesting, about your photo rotation. I didn’t realize it, because I’ve always seen the same photo at the top!
        I thought about going out and looking for frostweed, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get out in the cold. Instead, I read about Enchanted Rock, sorted through photos, and started on a new blog. All nice, snuggly occupations.

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      • Interesting–which photo is usually the header? And I wasn’t out all that much either, but I need to walk the dog now, so, brrrrrr!

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  4. Like some of the others have mentioned, we have some trouble with the invasive honeysuckles here in the north, too, but Lonicera sempervirens is a welcome plant in a Midwestern garden. The hummingbirds love it! Great photos of this beautiful plant!

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  5. I have a new garden and home in a new town…. I think there’s honeysuckle amongst the weeds but I’m not sure if it’s native or not. I had coral honeysuckle at my other garden and loved it. My blog is back!

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    • Oooh, you should plant a coral honeysuckle if what you’ve found isn’t what you want–it’ll be gorgeous with your new, yellow house! I’m glad you’re back–I’ve missed your musings!

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  6. What a great article Tina. I first saw Coral honeysuckle on a garden tour in Chapel Hill where it was draped over a high wall and paired with Lady Banksia rose. Lovely combination.

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    • It’s a great plant, but I know what you mean about lack of space for yet another plant that you want. The bike is my daughter, Shoshana’s. She died, very suddenly in 2006 when she was 13. She loved the outdoors and riding her bike. I’ve actually moved the bike since that photo to an opposite corner of the same garden–the vine had quite overwhelmed the bike.

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      • Oh Tina – that is so sad… I’m so sorry… I can’t even imagine…What a sweet way to honor her memory though… moving her beloved bike around the garden. Can’t think of a better tribute.

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      • Thank you, Anna. It’s been a hard road, but placing some of the things she loved is one way to remember and memorialize–I think she’d approve.

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