Geography and distribution
Lonicera sempervirens is native to eastern and southern parts of the United States, from Maine to Florida and Texas; it has been introduced to eastern Canada and elsewhere.
Overview: Trumpet honeysuckle is a vigorous, twining shrub with stems up to 5 m long.
Leaves: Glossy, oval green leaves which are evergreen in milder areas. The pairs of leaves are located just below the flower clusters and are joined at the base, forming a complete ring around the stem (perfoliate).
Flowers: The narrow, trumpet-shaped flowers are up to about 5 cm long, orange-red on the outside, yellow on the inside and unscented. The flowers are borne in hanging clusters from April to July and are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) in the wild.
Fruits: The fruit is a fleshy red berry.
There are several different colour forms, the best-known of which is probably Lonicera sempervirens f. minor (first described as L. sempervirens var. minor by William Aiton in 1789). However, along with other forms described from cultivated plants, this has been considered by taxonomists to be hardly distinct enough to be kept separate, most wild plants being more or less intermediate between L. sempervirens f. minor (which has a more southerly distribution) and L. sempervirens (most commonly encountered further north).
William Aiton and Kew
William Aiton (1731-1793), who described Lonicera sempervirens var. minor, and his son William Townsend Aiton (1766-1849) were both highly influential characters in the development of the Gardens at Kew. William Aiton was an assistant to Philip Miller, at the Chelsea Physick Garden, before being employed by Princess Augusta to develop her botanic garden at Kew. He published Hortus Kewensis in 1789, a catalogue of the plants then in cultivation in southern England.
Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
‘Lonicera sempervirens, the Great Trumpet Honeysuckle [sic]’, by Sydenham Edwards, from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1804).
The material for this hand-coloured engraving (image, right) was supplied by Fraser’s American Nursery, Sloane Square.
Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.
Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants.
Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.
Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
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Threats and conservation
Lonicera sempervirens is listed as Endangered in Maine (by the United States Department of Agriculture), but is common elsewhere in open woodlands, at the edges of thickets, and sometimes along roadsides, in eastern USA.
The chewed leaves of trumpet honeysuckle were traditionally used by Native Americans for treating bee stings. The fruits are reported to have been used as an emetic.
Trumpet honeysuckle is cultivated as an ornamental. In southern USA it is a good plant for attracting hummingbirds. In Great Britain, it has received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Lonicera sempervirens should be planted in well-drained, moist soil in sun or semi-shade. It needs some kind of support, such as a trellis, around which to twine. L. sempervirens is quite hardy. It can be susceptible to powdery mildew in stagnant air. Propagation can be carried out using cuttings, layering or seed.
This species at Kew
Trumpet honeysuckle can be seen growing in the Queen's Garden (behind Kew Palace) at Kew.
Pressed and dried specimens of Lonicera sempervirens are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of specimens of many other species of Lonicera, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.