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Tubular Trumpets

Coral honeysuckle attracts birds, bees and butterflies with its brilliant blooms.


Hummingbirds love a coral honeysuckle vine. The bright red flowers, tucked among green foliage in the woods and thickets of East Texas, are sure to catch a bird’s eye. And they’re shaped just right for a hummingbird’s long, slender beak.

Many gardeners are familiar with Japanese honeysuckle, an ornamental import that escaped cultivation and is now an invasive weed in many parts of the United States. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a cousin of that plant, but native to this continent. Found from Maine to Florida and ranging into the Midwest, it’s common in the eastern half of our state.

Typical of other similar species, coral honeysuckle is a perennial twining vine. In its southern range, it tends to keep its leaves year-round. Young stems are slender and flexible, while older growth is woody with papery gray bark. Leaves are oval to oblong and slightly pointed, borne in pairs on opposite sides of the stem. Just under each flower cluster, there’ll be one special pair of leaves with their bases fused together.

Late spring is the typical bloom time, but coral honeysuckle may bloom intermittently at other times of year. Red flowers form in stacked whorls of four to six, often drooping from the vine. Individual blossoms are tubular, 1.5 to 2 inches long, flaring slightly and dividing into five short lobes at the end. Stamens and pistils extend beyond the petals.

Trumpet honeysuckle, another common name for this plant, refers to the flower’s distinctive shape. It lacks the heady scent found in Japanese honeysuckle, relying instead on color to attract pollinators. Blooms are followed by clusters of red berries that mature in September or October.

Gardening guides recommend coral honeysuckle for native landscapes. It grows best in dappled shade or in spots that get morning sun and shade in the afternoon. It can be trained to climb a fence or used as a trailing ground cover. Once established, it’s fairly tolerant of drought and cold.

Whether planted in a garden or growing wild in the woods, coral honeysuckle is welcomed by wildlife. Ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds come to sip the nectar. The flowers also attract bees and butterflies. The vine provides food for caterpillars of the spring azure butterfly and the snowberry clearwing moth. Cardinals, quail and purple finches stop by in fall to feast on the fruit.

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 Laura Adams

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