Honeysuckle: A well behaved beauty

Photo by Ginny Brace

Honeysuckle is synonymous with the arrival of summer, and it’s hard to resist the sugar-sweet scent wafting on a warm breeze. Native honeysuckle in bloom (Photo by Ginny Brace). But this white-and-yellow flowered vine is an escaped exotic, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), introduced here in the early 1800s, and notorious for outcompeting native plants as it grows.

However, the U.S. is home to an equally beautiful and much better behaved native honeysuckle. Named for the abundant clusters of tube-shaped, coral-pink flowers it bears in May and June, coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is one of our showier native bloomers and was named 2014 Wildflower of the Year by the Virginia Native Plant Society. It grows wild primarily in the Southeast but occurs as far north as U.S. Department of Agriculture zone 4. In Frederick County, you might spot it growing wild along the edges of a forest, in shrubby ditches and open fields, where it is equally happy climbing a vertical support or sprawling along the ground — it takes well to landscaped fences, too. This highly adaptable plant can be grown in virtually any type of soil save pure sand and blooms best in full sun.

When not in flower, the vine’s dusky blue-green foliage still provides interesting contrast to brighter summer flowers.

A rich food source for local fauna, the bright flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as quail, goldfinches, robins and hermit thrushes, who visit to feast upon the red or black berry fruits in fall. The leaves provide food for the larvae of several butterfly species, including the frosty blue spring azure and the hummingbird-like snowberry clearwing moth. Somewhat evergreen in milder winters, the vines also provide important cover for many bird species all year long.

Article by Ginny Brace, FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 6/22/14