by Stephanie Gardner
Hurray for Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), recently succeeding Redbud as Virginia Wildflower of the Year (WOY)! Coral honeysuckle was voted WOY 2014 by the Virginia Native Plant Society Board of Directors after consideration of all wildflowers nominated this year by Virginia Native Plant Society members.
Coral honeysuckle is one of three native honeysuckles growing in Virginia. It is a climbing, twining woody vine but lacks the aggressiveness of the infamous invasive honeysuckles. It produces two inch long tubular sessile flowers from April to October. According to the VNPS the low odor flowers are often red with yellow inside although they can also be totally red, orange or yellow. It has opposite leaves that differ in shape by growing season. It usually remains evergreen, retaining some leaves through the winter. Coral honeysuckle also produces a red or orange berry August through March.
Coral honeysuckle is well suited for use as an ornamental plant. It produces nectar and will attract butterflies, bees and birds, including hummingbirds. According to the Virginia Native Plant Society, it serves as a host for the larvae of spring azure butterflies. It also hosts the larvae of snowberry clearwing moths, sphinx moths that resemble bees!
Coral honeysuckle leaves have traditional uses in Native American medicine. The berries are toxic to humans.
Coral honeysuckle is more commonly found in Eastern and Piedmont Virginia than in the Virginia Mountains although a map provided by the Virginia Native Plant Society indicates its presence in Augusta, Rockingham and Page counties.
Coral honeysuckle, our Wildflower of the Year 2014, is widely available in ornamental nurseries. VNPS offers a list of nurseries that propagate native plants and collect native seeds in a responsible manner. They do not advise gathering native plants from the wild for use in cultivation.