One Native Plant = Three Habitat Benefits

The coral honeysuckle is best when growing on a latice or trellis

 

While this (1 = 3 (or more)) equation is not rare in the native plant world, few accomplish this more beautifully than coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). It produces long tubular flowers in a beautiful shade of orange/red. The leaves immediately below the flowers are perfoliate–they are joined at the base and the stem emerges from the center of the more or less ovoid leaf.

This vine is native to the eastern US from Maine and Michigan south to central Florida and Texas.  Here’s the USDA profile for coral honeysuckle that provides the range.

 

The coral honeysuckle range in Florida

While the native range does not include south Florida, many people grow it there without a problem.

 

And since I‘m in Florida, here’s the profile & range for the state on the Florida Atlas of Vascular Plants.  Even though it’s not native in south Florida, many people successfully grow it there as well.

When I originally looked up the native range, I was surprised at the size. I’ve done a lot of hiking over the decades up and down the east coast, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, including two years of intense field work during the mid-seventies on the Delmarva Peninsula in likely habitats when I was working on my masters degree in botany. Yet, I’d never seen this plant growing in the wild until last year in Texas–it was in a state park, but now that I think about it, it might have been planted there along the bulkhead near the boat ramp.

Not being aware of this plant’s range in those days, when James Mitchner mentioned honeysuckle in “Chesapeake,” I thought he’d made a mistake.  On page 11 he wrote,

“ …and the location of brambled berry bushes, and the woody nests of eagles, and the honeysuckle twisting among the lower branches of the cedar trees.”

Since the book was published in 1979, I presumed that he’d walked around some wooded areas in Maryland, which were already covered with a tangle of Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica) by that time, and placed the imported (and invasive) plant back to the wilds of Maryland during the 1500s. Yes, coral honeysuckle is a native, but I still think he was describing the invader.

Coral honeysuckle next to the hummingbird feeder reduces the hummer wars.

 

 The Three Wildlife Benefits

That being said, I have several of these vines now growing in our yard.  I bought one plant a few years ago and have taken cuttings to produce more. My husband and I particularly enjoy the vine that grows on a trellis right outside our kitchen window, which is our view as we eat our meals. Let me count the ways:

 

Hummingbirds fly up into the tubular flowers right up to their eyeballs.

 

#1 Hummingbirds love the long tubular flowers produced in abundance by this vine. They hover in front of each flower and then fly into the flowers right up to their eyeballs. The length of the flower tubes and the hummingbird beaks are perfectly matched. Having the honeysuckle near our feeder has reduced the hummer wars. If one was guarding the feeder, the others could sip some natural nectar out of sight. Sometimes butterflies are attracted to the beautiful coral flowers, but their mouthparts do allow them access to the nectar, so they don’t stay long. On rare occasions, I have seen a bee bite into the base of a flower to rob the nectar without serving as a pollinator.

#2 Several years in a row, cardinals nested in the tangle of vines. The honeysuckle is thick because we cut back it back to just above the trellis each winter. The excitement of having baby birds reared right next to our screen porch is amazing. The vine did not host any nesting cardinals this year; maybe that’s because a predator (probably a snake) found their nest last year. The cardinals have been quite successful in some other location in our yard, because we’ve had fun watching a family group where the fledglings ruffle their feathers and frantically squawk to be fed.

Coral honeysuckle berries feed the cardinals and mockingbirds. Note the perfoliate leaves just below the fruiting stem.

#3 Now that it’s late in the season and the hummingbirds have left for their (migration) vacation, the vines have produced a ton of bright orange berries. The cardinals, blue jays and mocking birds have been flitting around the vines to feed. The cardinals are the most common and usually feed as a group.

My advice?  Plant some extremely easy-to-grow coral honeysuckle to beautify your yard and to attract the birds, too. Natives: more than meets the eye.

 

For more information:

See Lonicera sempervirens profile on www.floridata.com, a plant encyclopedia:  http://www.floridata.com/ref/l/loni_sem.cfm

Also listen to my podcast The Easy-to-Grow Coral Honeysuckle 

 

© 2011 – 2012, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. Sue Sweeney says

    Ginny – unfortunately, almost all the honeysuckle I see in the northeast, bush and vine, is invasive. In theory, we do have the native Lonicera sempervirens but I have never seen in the wild.

  2. says

    I have not seen it in the wild in NY but I have it in my garden (native not invasive). I love, love, love it for all the reasons you have here. I just love how it lights a shady corner of the garden with its bright orange flowers…the hummers can be seen flitting around the trellis even from far away…
    Donna@ Gardens Eye View recently posted..Calm

  3. says

    Ginny, this is one plant that I added to my garden. It took three years for it to successfully “take off”, but now it is prolific and I was able to layer some into a gallon planter which was used in a drawing at our most recent FL Native Plant Society Meeting. I’m preparing to layer a few more. It is spreading nicely on the ground and I trained it up a recycled PVC pole where the hummers show up and enjoy it. I too can see mine from the dining window and you are sooo right….it is a great way to spend mealtime looking out at all that enjoy it.
    Loret recently posted..The Sulphur Butterfly Emerged Already!

  4. says

    At least I’m not the only person who’s never seen it in the wild.
    Thanks everyone for your comments and emails. Maybe if we all plant more of it, it will once again escape into the wilds…

  5. says

    I’ve not seen coral honeysuckle n the wild either, but our county (Collier) is out of the native range. However…we do grow it here easily as you mentioned, and it’s one of my favorite plants! The gradation of colors in the blooms is delightful, and the leaves are lovely shades of green. In addition to hummingbirds, I’ve seen giant swallowtail butterflies attracted to the nectar. Maybe they’re the one butterfly with a long proboscis that works with the flowers.

    I’ve tried planting the seeds with no luck, but now I’ll try air layering since I’d love to have more of these vines.

    Great article!
    Elizabeth Smith recently posted..American sycamore ~ how many ways to draw a leaf?

  6. says

    Interestingly, trumpet honeysuckle also attracts bees and makes the pollen available to them by placing the anthers within easy reach. The inside of the petals turns yellow, a color that bees see well, when the pollen is ready. See a halictid bee visiting one of these flowers:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/45284874@N00/102114696/in/set-7205759406079445

    I am sure that when you place the hummingbird feeders near the honeysuckle blossoms they get an extra benefit because nectar is a healthier food than the empty calories sugary water. Nectar from a variety of flowers contains small amounts of minerals, vitamins, aminoacids, antioxidants, just to name a few things. I call it the “breakfast of champions”
    Beatriz Moisset recently posted..Bees and vitamins

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