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Lonicera sempervirens (trumpet honeysuckle)

Trumpet honeysuckle has striking, bright red, tubular flowers and is an attractive climber, which is evergreen in very mild areas.

Leaves and tubular flowers of Lonicera sempervirens

Lonicera sempervirens

Species information

Scientific name: 

Lonicera sempervirens L.

Common name: 

trumpet honeysuckle, coral honeysuckle

Conservation status: 

Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria, but listed as Endangered in Maine, USA. No known threats elsewhere.

Habitat: 

Forest and open woodland.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental, traditional medicine.

Known hazards: 

The fruits can cause nausea and vomiting if eaten.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Asteranae
Order: 
Dipsacales
Family: 
Caprifoliaceae
Genus: Lonicera

About this species

Lonicera sempervirens was introduced to England by John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662), gardener to King Charles I. He visited Virginia ‘…to gather up all raritye of flowers, plants, shells, &c...’ and listed this plant in the catalogue of his garden at South Lambeth in 1656.

During the 18th century, trumpet honeysuckle was grown at the Chelsea Physick Garden by the Curator, Philip Miller, and was well-known in English gardens, until for some unknown reason it seems to have fallen out of favour. By 1804, John Sims, writing an account of the plant for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, stated: ‘It has been so long lost to our gardens that when lately introduced by Messrs J & JT Fraser, it was considered as new’.

Synonym: 

Periclymenum sempervirens, Phenianthus sempervirens

Genus: 
Lonicera

Discover more

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.

Description

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.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

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.

Uses

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.

Cultivation

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.

References and credits

Coffey, T. (1993). The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers. Facts on File, New York.

Rehder, A. (1903). Synopsis of the genus Lonicera. Missouri Bot. Garden Ann. Rep. 1903: 27-232.

Sims, J. (1804). Lonicera sempervirens. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 20: t. 781.

Tradescant, J. (1656). Musaeum tradescantianum: or, a Collection of Rarities Preserved at South-Lambeth neer [sic.] London. Brooke, London.

United States Department of Agriculture (2011). PLANTS Profile: Lonicera sempervirens. Available online (accessed on 03 February 2011).

Weiner, M.A. (1972). Earth Medicine – Earth Food. Plant Remedies, Drugs and Natural Foods of the North American Indians. Collier, New York.

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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