Featured Native Plant: Trumpet Honeysuckle
By Bridget Abernathy
Our urban forests are dynamic ecosystems comprised of native and non-native species of plants and animals. Some species are part of artificially created environments, while others are part of remnant or restored native ecosystems. Native species provide special value to urban forests. They have adapted and evolved with our landscape over thousands of years, and generally live in reasonable balance with their competitors, diseases, or predators that limit their abundance. Native trees, shrubs, and other vegetation provide beauty to our landscape and preserve our natural heritage, create habitat and a food source for wildlife, require less water and maintenance after establishment, and can help reverse the trend of species loss.
Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), one of the showiest of the honeysuckles, is a native vine found in the eastern United States. It thrives in natural or cultivated settings, and is frequently visited by hummingbirds and long-tongued insect pollinators (e.g., white-lined sphinx moth). Trumpet honeysuckle is one of about 180 species of honeysuckles found mainly in the northern hemisphere, and is related to the highly invasive Amur honeysuckle bush (L. maackii) and Japanese honeysuckle vine (L. japonica).
The climbing, twining woody vine has smooth, glossy, semi-evergreen leaves and clusters of delicate yet spectacular crimson tubular flowers. The large, non-fragrant, narrow, trumpet-shaped flowers are striking red or coral outside and yellow inside, and are born in whorled clusters at the end of stems. The flowers are typically 1½–2" long, bloom profusely from early to mid-spring, and intermittently thereafter. Small, deep red berries follow flowering and mature in the fall. Trumpet honeysuckle leaves are simple, opposite, ovate to oblong, and are highly variable within a single plant. The leaves have a thick leathery texture, with yellowish green to dark green, smooth, glossy upper surfaces and pale green and glaucous lower surfaces. The uppermost leaves are fused together, just below the flower cluster. Older stems have papery exfoliating bark that is orange-brown in color. The vine grows 10-20 feet in height, but can also trail along the ground. Trumpet honeysuckle is easily distinguished from other honeysuckles by its climbing habit, semi-evergreen leaves, terminal flower clusters, and red tubular flowers.
Trumpet honeysuckle inhabits a wide variety of environments—disturbed areas, fencerows, roadsides, ridges, early successional woodlands, and forest edges. The plant is prized for its ability to attract ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies. The bright red fruit is attractive to birds, and is used by American robins, goldfinches, hermit thrushes, purple finches and quail. The plant is also a larval host to snowberry clearwing moths and spring azure butterflies, and attracts bees.
This native vine is an outstanding garden plant. It thrives in well-drained acid or near neutral loamy soils, is fairly drought tolerant, and is generally easy to grow. Full sun will give way to the best floral display, but the plant can grow well in shade. Trellising or staking may be needed to help the vine begin climbing. Pruning should follow spring flowering to control the shape and size of the vine. Trumpet honeysuckle can be propagated with a rooting hormone by cuttings taken in the late spring or summer. The plant develops few diseases or pest problems—powdery mildew can be prevented by allowing for adequate soil drainage, and aphids can be removed by water sprays from a garden hose. Several cultivars exist, and can be found at local greenhouses and garden centers: ‘Sulphurea' has bright yellow flowers; 'Superba' has bright scarlet flowers and broadly oval leaves; 'Magnifica' has large, bright red blooms and is late-flowering; and ‘Major Wheeler’ has blazing red and gold flowers and blooms from summer to fall. The stunning flowers, benefit to pollinators, and ease of cultivation make this native vine especially appealing to gardeners in urban and rural areas alike.
- Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet honeysuckle. (Flickr - Greg Goebel - CC)
- Lonicera sempervirens & White-lined sphinx moth. (Flickr - Ronnie Pitman - CC)
- Trumpet honeysuckle and female ruby-throated hummingbird. (Flickr - Bud Ohio - CC)
About the Author
Bridget Abernathy is an Outreach Specialist at Bluegrass Greensource, a non-profit organization that provides education and resources to schools, community groups, businesses, local governments, and citizens throughout Central Kentucky. Email @ firstname.lastname@example.org