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May 3, 2014

What’s Blooming 05-04-14

Native honeysuckles deliver flower power

Honeysuckle has earned a bad name in gardening due to an unruly exotic species that has spread aggressively through our native landscapes.

The invader is Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, a perennial vine native to Japan. It was introduced to the U.S. more than 200 years ago as an ornamental ground cover. It escaped cultivation and is widespread throughout our woodlands and prairies where it shades out native vegetation. Though it may lure you with its fragrant blooms, it is a plant to be avoided in the garden.

Fortunately, there is an equally fragrant U.S.-native honeysuckle available commercially. Coral honeysuckle or Lonicera sempervirens is a fast-growing deciduous vine with beautiful trumpet shaped flowers. With the long red trumpets and yellow throat, I find the flowers even more beautiful on our native honeysuckle than on the Japanese species.

Flowers develop on both old and new wood, so you can prune the vines as desired.

The vine grows by twining around supports and is perfect along a fence.  The foliage is unique in that the leaves are fused at the base forming a cup around the stem. This is a characteristic that can be used to differentiate between native and Japanese honeysuckle, as the Japanese species does not have fused leaves.

The species name refers to the plants evergreen habit. Though it will lose its leaves in colder locations, coral honeysuckle is evergreen in warmer southern regions.

Cultivated varieties come with red, yellow or orange flowers. All varieties are beloved by hummingbirds and butterflies.  

We have several varieties here in the gardens. This exceptional cultivar is called ‘Major Wheeler.’ It has amazing flower power – it produces red trumpet-shaped flowers all summer long. The flowers hang in clusters all over the vine. The foliage is very clean, not experiencing mildew as in many other varieties. ‘Major Wheeler’ grows to 10 feet. It flowers best in full sun, but will also tolerate part shade conditions. This variety is extremely drought tolerant.  

For a lovely pale yellow, try ‘John Clayton.’ Blooming from May through November, this variety was selected for its more compact form. It grows to a height of four to seven feet, fitting well into smaller urban landscapes.  ‘John Clayton’ was bred from a plant found on the grounds of a 17th century church in Virginia.  

It is adaptable to a variety of planting sites and is drought tolerant.  

For long lasting bloom, ease of care and delightful fragrance, consider a native honeysuckle for your fence or trellis.

Laura Payne is the volunteer and events coordinator at The Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University and a field producer for the TV program “Oklahoma Gardening.” Email her at

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