Coral honeysuckle's long, tubular red flowers beckon hummingbirds to visit. It flowers most heavily in mid-spring about the time hummingbirds are returning to the mid-Atlantic. It will continue to bloom sporadically throughout the summer. Clusters of flowers bloom at the ends of the vines. There are several cultivars of coral honeysuckle including one with yellow flowers called 'John Clayton', named after a colonial botanist from Virginia. The flowers provide an important source of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies.
Coral honeysuckle's vines twine around narrow supports, but to grow into a tall vine it must be trained. With a low support it forms a sprawling shrub. Without support it can be used as a groundcover. It provides a beautiful cover for chain link and low wooden fences. In warmer climates it can be evergreen, but in the Mid-Atlantic it loses its leaves in winter. The woody main stems have pretty, papery orange-brown bark.
This ornamental plant is very easy to grow. It is drought-tolerant once established and prefers well-drained soils. It can be grown in sun or partial shade, but will produce more flowers in full sun. Coral honeysuckle can be pruned back in summer or winter as both new and old growth will produce flowers. Coral honeysuckle has few pest or disease problems. Aphids will sometimes attack the tips of new shoots and plants are susceptible to powdery mildew if they do not get enough air circulation.
Photos of honeysuckle courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder
Coral honeysuckle does not become invasive like its non-native cousin, Japanese honeysuckle. Coral honeysuckle naturally grows from Maine to northern Florida and west to Illinois. The introduced Japanese honeysuckle has white to yellow, fragrant flowers and the fruits are black. Japanese honeysuckle often kills small trees as the vines twine around them and girdle them, and it forms such a dense groundcover that no other plants can grow. Choose coral honeysuckle for a wonderful, well-behaved alternative to Japanese honeysuckle.
In the fall, small orange-red fruits mature inviting birds like purple finches, gold finches and robins to eat them. To grow a new plant from seed, plant the seeds outside in fall because they need a season of cold weather to trigger germination.
Article by Sylvan Kaufman. Dr. Kaufman is a writer of popular scientific and gardening articles. She is also an ecological consultant.