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!

Coneflowers are Yummy

Besides being garden head-turners and absurdly easy perennial growers, Purple coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, are also some of the best wildlife plants in any home garden.  Now, as Central Texas enters its mid-spring-into-summer bloom period, coneflowers are reaching their zenith of beauty and bounty.  Everyone visiting wants a meal at Cafe Coneflower.

Enjoying a coneflower is a plain little Dun Skipper, Euphyes vestris.  According to Austin Bug Collection, a local Austin insect resource, the males of the species show no demonstrable markings, but the females have a few spots on the forewings.

And so they do!

Another of the many skippers endemic in this region is the Julia’s SkipperNastra julia.

Both of these skippers individually enjoy Purple coneflowers,

…and as dining companions at Cafe Coneflower.

Texan Crescents,  Anthanassa texana, are all over the garden, all the time, but they always check out the coneflowers for a good nectar snack.

 

This Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, heads for Coneflower Cafe whenever he/she is out-and-about, typically during sunshine-drenched afternoons.

 

Of course, honeybees will always be found partaking a good nectar meal.

 

It’s easy to catch a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, dining on flowers in the garden, but right now, it’s all about coneflower cuisine for these friendly pollinators.

They move around the flower during nectaring, so it’s easy to glimpse the various sides of their wings.

It’s not only the butterflies and honeybees who like coneflowers, though.

A  Spot-sided Coreid, Hypselonotus punctiventris, worked the coneflower one morning.  BugGuide calls this bug a Spot-sided coreid, but Austin Bug Collection says that this common coreid to Central Texas has no common name.

I’ll call him handsome and leave it at that.

This Leaf-footed bug, Acanthocephala femorata, posed impressively on his coneflower plinth.

I think these bugs are charming, though a little intimidating because of their size. But I can’t question this one’s affinity for the coneflower–it’s something we share in common.

As the blooms fade, the birds and some mammals will also reap nutritious rewards through the seeds from this valuable perennial.

I appreciate the beauty coneflowers bring to the garden, the critters like the bounty.

A win-win for all, I’d say.

A Ballyhoo for Spiderwort

Texas is well-known for its spring wildflowers: BluebonnetLupinus texensis

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Pink evening primroseOenothera speciosa,

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FirewheelGaillardia pulchella,

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…and so many others. Folks from far and wide travel to Texas to view the spring wildflower show. In a good year, open spaces and home gardens are resplendent with color from all parts of the color wheel.

I don’t grow any of the famed Texas wildflowers in my personal garden. Alas, my soil is too heavy and my space too shady for the prairy/grassland flowers that most identify as quintessential Texas wildflowers.  But I certainly love and grow many other native Texas plants and wildflowers and a favorite in bloom right now is a group belonging to the Commelinaceae family–the pride of purple–Tradescantia or Spiderwort.

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There are 19 species of Tradescantia throughout North America, almost half of which reside in Texas.  A woodlands plant, Spiderwort thrive in a variety of soils, but generally prefer part-shade to shade exposure, though it grows well in more sunny conditions, too.  In short, it’s not a picky plant.

I can’t tell you exactly which one of the Tradescantia that are in my gardens because different Spiderwort mix-n-match with one another, hybridizing readily and creating variations in color,

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…height,

…and petal shape.

A simple Spiderwort petal,

A simple Spiderwort petal,

...and a more ruffly form.

…and a more ruffly form.

I started with several individuals gifted to me a few years ago and they’ve self-seeded with aplomb.  Some clumps of these purple zingers trend very purple,

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…and others lean-to the lavender side of things.

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I think the majority of my Spiderwort plants are the Giant spiderwortTradescantia gigantea,  if only because most of them are just so darned tall.

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And so darned purple.

Spiderwort pop up in the late fall or winter, sporting grass-like foliage; during the cool season the foliage grows and thickens.

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As the days lengthen and temperatures warm, fleshy stalks shoot up from the base of the foliage.

A Spiderwort bloom stalk arises.

A Spiderwort bloom stalk arises.

In time, bloom clusters form atop those bloom stalks and purple play begins!

Spiderwort in blooming tandem with Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata.

Spiderwort in blooming tandem with Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata.

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In my garden, Spiderwort blooms for  a rather long period.  Often, the flowering begins at the first of March (if not sooner) and continues well through May. Spiderwort plants are best situated in a more casual garden, though if kept in check, it’s a plant that could work beautifully in a formal setting.  The key phrase is kept in check. Tradescantia re-seed with abandon and can prove weedy and thuggish if allowed to seed out ungoverned. You MUST weed wayward seedlings if they grow where they’re not wanted!  A good time to discipline these rogue germinators  is in winter and early spring, as the seedlings emerge.

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Spiderwort seedlings alongside sprinkled spent blooms of White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.

Spiderwort seedlings alongside sprinkled spent blooms of White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.

If I see a mother plant and scads of babies at her feet AND I don’t want them–out they go! The seedlings are easily removed by hand or with a weeding tool.

The mother Spiderwort is toward the top right of the photo, her progeny are everywhere else.

The mother Spiderwort is at the top right of the photo, her progeny are everywhere else.

Another strategy is to nip Spiderwort in the bud during the blooming season.  Once I notice less flower production, it means that the seeds are developing and it’s time to snip.P1030500.new

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Most of these bloom clusters are ready for seed.

Most of these bloom clusters are ready for seed.

I prune the flower stalks down to the base of the grassy foliage to lessen the spread of the prolific re-seeders.

A just pruned Spiderwort at the end of its bloom cycle.

A just pruned Spiderwort at the end of its bloom cycle.

I’m brutal with this process because I know that if I’m the least bit kind-hearted, Spiderworts will be everywhere in the garden.  I still get plenty of new seedlings each year, but keeping Spiderworts in check prevents mayhem in the garden of the Spiderwort variety.

Despite its mission to spread, Spiderworts are valuable to pollinators and pretty  for me to relish, and therefore, welcome in my garden–with practical limitations of course. Honeybees adore this plant and Tradescantia are visited by native bees and butterflies too.

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A buzzing honeybee sharing Spiderwort pollen with a Syrphid fly.

A buzzing honeybee sharing Spiderwort pollen with a Syrphid fly.

From A Seasonal Look perspective, Spiderwort are primarily winter and spring plants. In a wet and cool autumn, the foliage will emerge early; in a wet and cool early summer, the blooms might last into June, the foliage a little longer.  But once the heat of summer sets in and Spiderwort flowers have bowed out and relinquished the flower show to the heat lovers, the foliage…fades away.  I can’t honestly say exactly when the foliage is no more–but eventually, it disappears.  One of my strategies in planting for seasonal flowering is to plant early spring bloomers underneath the larger summer/fall blooming/berrying shrubs (many of which are herbaceous perennials).  I’m certain that those particular Spiderwort plants hang on for a while after the peak of their blooms, shadowed and covered by the limbs of summer/fall plants.  Since the Spiderwort plants are sheltered by the spread and height of the summer shrubs and perennials, I don’t notice what they’re doing–and I won’t notice (or think about) those Spiderwort plants again until winter’s first freeze renders the deciduous perennials inconsequential and the tell-tale grassy foliage of Spiderwort emerges from the chilled soil.  The caveat is that many of the unwanted Spiderwort in my garden occur because I neglect to deadhead those soon-to-disappear-under-larger-plants Spiderworts.  That’s the downside of planting them underneath larger plants: out of sight, out of mind.

Spring blooming Spiderwort growing amidst Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and Yellow bells, Tacoma stans. Both of these larger perennials will cover the Spiderwort by early summer.

Spring blooming Spiderwort growing amidst Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and Yellow bells, Tacoma stans. Both of these larger perennials will cover the Spiderwort by early summer.

Spring blooming Spiderwort will be overtaken by the rapidly growing Turk's cap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Spring blooming Spiderwort will be overtaken by the rapidly growing Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

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Spiderwort planted underneath a White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis. Most years, the Mistflower freezes to the ground, or nearly so, allowing the Spiderwort a good late winter and spring show.

Spiderwort planted underneath a White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis. Most years, the Mistflower freezes to the ground, or nearly so, allowing the Spiderwort a good late winter and spring show.

For those free-standing Spiderwort individuals that drag into summer, their seasonal end is more obvious.

A self-seeded Spiderwort beside the pond. By late May, the bloom stalks will be pruned and by mid-summer, the foliage will wilt and the gardener will prune the foliage to the soil and toss in the compost bin.

A self-seeded Spiderwort beside the pond. By late May, the bloom stalks will be pruned and by mid-summer, the foliage will wilt and the gardener will prune the foliage to the soil and toss in the compost bin.

What typically happens is that sometime in June or July, they become terribly droopy and sad–heat is not a friend to Spiderwort plants.  I relieve any Spiderwort misery with my trusty Felco pruning shears, cutting down the remaining, sad foliage to the soil. The roots stay safe in the ground until more convivial conditions present and ready the Spiderwort story to begin again: lush winter foliage and enchanting spring flowers.

If  basic preventative pruning and/or seedling weeding is employed, Spiderwort is a desirable spring wildflower for the garden with its lovely foliage and flowers, attraction for many pollinators, and easy growing habit.  What’s not to enjoy about Spiderwort?

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I appreciate the winter foliage and spring flowers–and who wouldn’t?

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