Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


April cover image

Flora Fact: Totally Tubular

Stunning desert honeysuckle provides nectar for hummingbirds.

By Jason Singhurst

In fall and spring and again in the summer months, Texas botanical enthusiasts will encounter desert honeysuckle (Anisacanthus sp.) along washes, creeks and rivers in Big Bend and the southern Edwards Plateau. One of the showiest shrubs in Texas, desert honeysuckle boasts masses of tubular flowers.

A member of the Acanthus family, desert honeysuckle should not be confused with true honeysuckles that belong to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). Desert honeysuckle is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, peripherally entering the United States in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Some desert honeysuckle species are cultivated and used for xeriscaping because of their high drought tolerance.

Desert honeysuckles display long, tubular, orange-red, pink or yellow flowers with recurved linear lobes spreading to decumbent stems, shredding bark and linear leaves. Hummingbirds, butterflies and moths feed on the nectar. The Hummingbird Society ranks desert honeysuckles as one of the top 18 natural nectar plants for hummingbirds.


Three species of these deciduous shrubs can be found in Texas. Dwarf desert honeysuckle (Anisacanthus puberulus) is restricted to Brewster and Presidio counties in Big Bend and the adjacent states of Chihuahua and Coahuila, Mexico, where it occurs along sandy washes and rocky banks of arroyos. Dwarf desert honeysuckle averages 6 feet in height and width and can be viewed flowering from late March through April along Pinto Canyon Road southwest of Marfa. Used as a native garden plant, it has showy pink blooms, grows in full sun and partial shade and tolerates the reflected heat of hardscapes.

Narrowleaf desert honeysuckle (Anisacanthus linearis) is restricted to Brewster County in Big Bend and the adjacent states of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, Mexico, where it occurs along arroyos and brushy canyons. Narrowleaf desert honeysuckle averages 5 feet in height and width but can grow to nearly 10 feet tall. The orange-red flowers can be viewed in Big Bend National Park in the Chisos Mountains along the Window Trail, in the Paint Gap Hills and in the Grapevine Hills.

Narrowleaf desert honeysuckle is a great xeriscape plant, attracting hummingbirds in summer and fall.

Wright’s desert honeysuckle (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), also known as flame acanthus, was named after the worldwide botanical collector Charles Wright (1811–85), who collected extensively in Texas. Wright’s desert honeysuckle is found in South-Central Texas, in West Texas, into northern Mexico and continuing south to the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. A spreading shrub ranging from 3 to 5 feet in height and width, it occurs along rocky banks of creeks and rivers. You can see it flowering in summer and fall along the Frio River below Concan, in Uvalde County and along the East and West Nueces River above Uvalde in Kinney and Uvalde counties. Wright’s desert honeysuckle attracts hummingbirds and has become popular as a native landscape planting. It’s very drought-tolerant and survives low temperatures as far north as Dallas. Rains will trigger a plethora of blooms.

Desert honeysuckles are a botanical treasure among Texas flora, so be sure to look for this spectacular plant in the wild or in a native landscape. Keep an eye out for the hummingbirds, butterflies and moths that can usually be found gorging on the nectar from this plant’s “totally tubular” flowers.

» Like this story? If you enjoy reading articles like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.

Related stories

Flora Fact: The Ice Cream Flower

Flora Fact: Blue Heaven


back to top ^


    Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine