What Is Coral Honeysuckle?

Dan Harkins

The coral honeysuckle plant, called Lonicera sempervirens, is a North American native of the Caprifoliaceae honeysuckle family. This vine, also known as the trumpet honeysuckle, blooms in clusters of tubular red flowers in the spring and summer months, sporting a nectar-rich yellow on the insides. Though native to the eastern half of the United States and Canada, this perennial can be found thriving on trellises and fences around the globe.

Coral honeysuckle has been used to lessen fever.
Coral honeysuckle has been used to lessen fever.

The genus, Lonicera, comes from the chronicler of the plant, 16th century botanist Adam Lonicer of Germany. Sempervirens is Latin for "always green," for the vine's evergreen leaves that form in pairs along the vines. The stems end with two leaves fused at the bottom and a cluster of trumpet flowers — long capsules that, when mature, splay out invitingly at the tips. Though the flowers are typically red, one cultivar sports yellow flowers instead.

The plant's seeds are encased in berries, which form like the flowers in small clusters at the end of each stem. Each slightly larger than a pea, these potentially toxic berries start orange and then ripen to red. After seeding in the early summer, aromatic flowers begin to form well into the fall and winter, particularly in climates like South Florida that do not experience many freezing temperatures.

Hummingbirds have evolved a long beak that is perfectly suited for the coral honeysuckle. Many include these plants in their landscaping plans to attract these tiny birds as well as butterflies — all drawn by the iconically aromatic flowers. For the coral honeysuckle to thrive, it requires rich, moist and well-fertilized soil under mostly full sunlight. It also needs at least four months without freezing temperatures to bear any flowers, with winter prunings producing the best floral yields. With prime conditions these vines can grow to encase a two-story structure or higher.

The coral honeysuckle is one of a hundred or more members of the Lonicera family. Some of the other species, like the Japanese L. japonica or the Siberian L. tatarica, are considered invasive when not in native regions. Many of these species have been prized for generations by herbalists who make a tea of the flowers for medicinal purposes. Though the plant is reputed to lessen fevers, ease rashes, kill bacteria, and detoxify the body, the flowers and berries can be toxic, particularly if eaten without steeping in boiled water.

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