I’ve Got A Crush On You

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m gushing about my love for a red, red…tubular shaped flower which blooms on a Texas tough vine.

I’m aflutter over Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).  A vine to please wildlife and people alike, this lovely and hardy plant is native to Texas, but is found in other parts of the United States.

The vine is generally evergreen in the Austin area, although can become thin in a very cold winter.  My experience is that the vine blooms mostly during springtime, but I’ve seen it bloom well into summer with rain and/or irrigation.  I’ve also seen occasional blooms in the fall and winter. With our mild winter this year, it’s blooming earlier than usual.

The leaves are rounded or oblong, with a point at the end and are paired and opposite from one another.

I find the new leaves attractive because of their rich bronze color and during the main bloom time, the combination of the bronze leaves and new blooms is especially beautiful.

The flowers are grouped in clusters and are red with yellow interiors.  So pretty!

In spring, the well-behaved climbing vine is loaded with these gorgeous clusters of blooms.

If the timing is right and there are hummingbirds around, they’ll be courting these flowers.  Coral Honeysuckle is an excellent wildlife plant.  It provides nectar (for hummers, bees and butterflies) and a fruit that many birds love.  I’ve had fruits develop on my vine, but they never remain long because the birds snatch them up as soon as they ripen.  The mature fruit is an iridescent coral color.   It’s a little too soon after the beginning of the bloom season for mature fruit, but there are some nascent fruits developing on my vine.

Coral Honeysuckle is also the larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly and the Snowberry Clearwing Moth.  (Check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center page on Coral Honeysuckle.)

As with many vines which bloom prolifically, Coral Honeysuckle blooms best in full sun, but it will bloom in part shade, but probably not deep shade.  I planted this one three years ago this month.

It grows moderately quickly–I stapled a large wire mesh to the fence to assist the vine with its climbing needs and away it went.  Coral Honeysuckle is beautiful planted over an arch as an entry to a garden space.  I clip off any dead undergrowth (or at least, I should…) and any errant branches.  As the new growth reaches skyward, I’ll bend the branches into the existing vine or I’ll prune them, depending upon whether there’s room for the vine to spread.

I don’t have any irrigation on this vine, so this past hot and dry year, I only watered it when I noticed it looking sad and dejected.  In fact, according to the The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, it’s a plant that doesn’t particularly like being in heavy or wet soils.  I’ve never experienced any disease or insect problems with the vine, but the ones I’ve grown or gardened around have all received full sun.

I’ll enjoy the luscious blooms of Coral Honeysuckle and appreciate its steadfast and reliable presence in my gardens.  It’s no wonder I have a crush on this plant.

Beam Me Up, Scottie!

I think bees are the ‘bee’s knees’.

I love their work ethic.

I love what they do for plants.

And I love what they do for the world.

Last November, on a chilly, breezy Sunday afternoon, I attended a basic beekeeping class sponsored by Round Rock Honey.   In the class, there were about a ten other students, with varying interests in bees and the production of honey.

Here we are, in our very attractive bee suits.

I’m reasonably sure that I saw these suits in one of the shows from the original,  Star Trek series.

It’s fascinating to see the bees in their hive and the accompanying honey stores.

It was interesting to watch the bees actually calm down with the introduction of smoke–it really works!  (Though to be fair, it was very cold and windy that day, so that might have played a role in their lethargy of movement.)

I’m now in the process of ordering bees (yes, you can do that!), to place in my new bee hives that my nice husband built for me.

My interest in beekeeping stems from the invasion of my Eastern Screech Owl house by a little swarm of honeybees last May.  The day after the two owlets left the house for good, I noticed  a few bees buzzing about the entrance hole.  Within two days, there was a bona fide swarm in the owl house.    I knew that I didn’t want the bees exterminated, so I Googled beekeepers in/near Austin and hired Brandon Fehrencamp of Eastside Honey Co. to safely remove the hive without killing the bees.  The bees were in the owl house for about three days and when Brandon opened the owl house, I was amazed to see how much honeycomb was built in that short period of time.  After he safely vacuumed the bees into another container to relocated them to new hives, I extracted about two tablespoons of honey which I shared with neighbors.

I decided that it would be interesting to someday build some hives (I’m allowed two in the city limits of Austin, with some restrictions) and tend bees. I figured beekeeping would be a good empty-nest project. But, for my birthday last fall, my husband built a set of hives for me.  (Most women get jewelry, flowers or an extravagant dinner at an elegant restaurant.  Me?  I get bee hives.)

I prefer the bee hives!

The hives are Warre type hives built from untreated cedar.

The bee houses were supposed to be a surprise, but I figured out what he was building, especially after he nearly cut his finger off and we had to spend a Sunday afternoon in a local ER.  Sigh.

The queen and her workers won’t arrive until April, so we’ll finish the work on the frames (where the honey is stored) and continue our study of home beekeeping.

If you’re interested in learning more about bees, check out BeeWeaver Apiaries and Urban Beekeeping in Austin, Texas.

Live long and prosper, little bees.