Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Coral or Trumpet Honeysuckle was selected by the Virginia Native Plant Society as the 2014 wildflower of the year. It certainly deserves this honor for its vibrant red/orange blooms and versatility. This high-climbing, twining vine can grow to 20 ft. with long, smooth, glossy, leaves and 2-4 clusters of red, tubular blooms followed by bright-red berries. Coral honeysuckle blooms most heavily in mid-spring just in time to provide returning hummingbirds an important source of nectar. Most hummingbirds prefer these blossoms to any nectar that you may supply.
This plant does need full sun for the best flowers and benefits from support from a trellis or fence. With a low support this honeysuckle forms a sprawling shrub. Without support it can be used as a ground cover. It provides a beautiful cover for a chain link or low wooden fences. In warmer climates it can be evergreen, but here in the Mid-Atlantic it loses its leaves in winter. The remaining woody main stems have pretty, papery orange-brown bark. The leaf shape of our native honeysuckle varies over the growing season, adding more interest to the plant.
High nitrogen fertilizer will produce foliage at the expense of flowers, so go easy on fertilization. Coral Honeysuckle (unlike the alien Japanese Honeysuckle) is noninvasive, and it is excellent for natural, low-maintenance areas. There are no serious pest or disease problems but powdery mildew and leaf spots may occur, particularly in hot and humid summer climates.
Coral honeysuckle is widely known for its ability to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The combination of bright red tubular flowers with abundant nectar and little floral odor typifies the usual pattern for hummingbird-pollinated species. The bright red fruits are also attractive to birds; consumption by Quail, Purple Finches, Goldfinches, Hermit Thrushes, and American Robins has been documented. Further, the plant is larval host to Spring Azure butterflies and Snowberry clearwing moths.