You may have seen it snaking up a fencepost or host tree, or trailing along a trellis well above your head. With bright clusters of trumpet-like flowers complimenting the blue-green of its paired leaves, this vine is as easy on the eyes as it is to grow. Call it coral honeysuckle, trumpet honeysuckle, or woodbine, its Latin name is Lonicera sempervirens. The genus is named for Adam Lonicer, German physician and botanist from the 16th century. Sempervirens translates as “always green”, pointing to the capacity of the vine’s leaves to stay green year-round. These thick-textured leaves appear opposing in pairs along the stems. They are glossy on top with a powdery, lighter underside and new growth is christened with a delicate purply hue.
A curious thing occurs where the stem branches or produces flower. Just as most trumpeters need a stage to display their talents, so the leaves conjoin to construct a platform just before the brilliant burst of inflorescence. And what a display. The fancy, five-lobed flowers are flung out in whorls of coral-colored trumpet clusters, 3, 4, 5, or 6 in number. The long, narrow, inner walls of the flower are a shade of yellowish orange, with a single stigma and five stamens dangling from its depths. Hummingbirds flutter where these flowers grow, as will a variety of butterflies and bees, making them a beloved selection for sharing space with other species.
In autumn the vine will exchange flowers for fruits, and so attract a new flock of feathered friends. Songbirds dine on the egg-shaped red berries, among them Goldfinch, Hermit Thrush, and Purple Finch. A single seed is at the heart of each tiny berry and propagation from these seeds is made possible by cleaning away the flesh and cold stratifying for three months. Now and through the summer months, however, you can propagate successfully by simply taking a cutting.
Almost every native plant has a historical medicinal use, and trumpet honeysuckle is no exception. Native Americans chewed the leaves of this vine and applied them to bee stings, staving off the swell. The dried and smoked leaves are listed as a traditional treatment for asthma. Beware the berries–although suitable for songbirds–they will induce vomiting in humans.
The soil requirements for trumpet honeysuckle almost allow for whatever is underfoot; from sand to clay and loam between. Preferred soil PH is listed as 5.5-7, and it is reportedly resistant to heat, drought, and insect infestation. This native, twining vine will tolerate shade and thrive in the sunshine, producing flowers through as many as three seasons. Already familiar with life on the stage, the fanciful, fruitful, and fabulous trumpet honeysuckle is in this month’s Spotlight.
- Cultivars of this species are listed on The University of Connecticut’s plant database for Lonicera sempervirens.
- Native distribution range is available on the USDA Plants Database.
- Lonicera appears on Dr. Douglas Tallamy’s 20 Most Valuable Plant Genera in terms of supporting biodiversity in the mid-Atlantic region, reportedly supporting 36 species of moths and butterflies. -full pdf
- For further reading and in-depth information- Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew , The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
This article showcases the photography of NPSNJ’s own Belinda Beetham. For more naturalist photos, visit her flickr.