Plant of the Week: Coral Honeysuckle

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. This week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

The High Line's Coral honeysuckle is eye-catching from the appearance of its first flowers in late spring, with bundles of scarlet blooms lighting up against the blue-green foliage of this dense, twining vine. Though not fragrant, 'Major Wheeler,' the cultivar on view at the High Line, is one of the showiest of the vining honeysuckles, with an abundance of flowers joined by bright berries in late summer. The second part of its botanic name, sempervirens, refers to the evergreen foliage it maintains in the many states south of the Mason-Dixon Line to which it is native. This honeysuckle is a fantastic substitute for the invasive Japanese honeysuckle and other noxious vines, as it is arguably more beautiful and absolutely more beneficial to our regional birds and pollinators.

Lonicera sempervirens grows up to 30 feet tall with a woody base and highly variable leaf shapes within a single plant. Early in the season, leaves can be linear and strap-like, whereas those appearing later tend to be oblong or elliptic, growing in a visually striking opposite pattern. Though there are around 180 species of honeysuckle found in temperate parts of the northern hemisphere, Coral honeysuckle is easy to distinguish by its striking color, climbing habit, and the way in which blooms are borne at the stem tips, giving it a particularly floriferous look. The 'Major Wheeler' cultivar is renowned for its superb resistance to the ever-annoying powdery mildew that plagues other varieties, for which sufficient airflow can be a problem.

In its native regions, you'll find Coral honeysuckle along woodland edges, in roadside thickets, and acting as an important soil stabilizer on cliffsides. Because of its similar growth habit and requirements, it's a recommended alternative species to the highly problematic Porcelain berry, as well as to the other more invasive honeysuckle varieties that grow rampant in many parts of the United States. It's also a year-round food and habitat source for local species. Its tubular red blooms, negligible floral odor, and abundant nectar fit the profile for hummingbird-pollinated species, and it's one of the longest-blooming nectar sources available for hummingbirds in this region; meanwhile, its dense growth is a favorite nesting spot for cardinals. Its berries, an almost translucent red, are quite showy and a huge draw for jays, finches, and robins.

PLANTING TIP
Will grow into bushes, shrubs, and trees; otherwise requires some support, i.e. a fence or trellis. More flowers will bloom in full sun than in partial. Blooms primarily on previous year's stems, so prune after flush of flowers has appeared. Prefers moist, loamy soil. Can be propagated with softwood cuttings taken in late spring or summer.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
West 17th Street

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