What is a Cape Honeysuckle?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cape honeysuckle is a shrub native to tropical South Africa and famous for producing sprays of colorful red to orange flowers during the fall and winter months. These evergreen shrubs can be cultivated in tropical and subtropical gardens all over the world and are often available through nurseries and garden suppliers. One thing to be cautious of when establishing a cape honeysuckle is the invasive nature of these plants. The plant must be monitored carefully and controlled or it can take over the garden.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Known to botanists as Tecoma capensis, cape honeysuckle is a climbing or sprawling shrub, depending on the conditions where it grows. If something is available for the plant to climb, it will climb and continue spreading. If the plant is grown on flat ground, it will sprawl and tumble over itself. The plant can be grown over arbors and arches, trained on fences, and used to create hedges and privacy screens. The rapid growth makes cape honeysuckle useful when people want to establish landscaping quickly.

This plant tolerates a wide range of soil types, preferring well-drained, medium soil. It grows in full sun and partial shade and can grow in areas with salt spray, an advantage for gardeners living by the ocean. Although usually evergreen, cape honeysuckle can become deciduous in cooler climates, and the plant will tolerate light frost, although it can experience some injuries. Covering young plants is recommended for protection on cold nights, and in the cooler ranges of the subtropics, a sheltered area is recommended for growing this plant to limit the risks of frost damage.

Pruning to shape and control the plant is recommended, and cape honeysuckle can be trained with the use of trellising and gardening tape. The plant can be propagated through divisions, seeds, cuttings, and layering, depending on gardening needs. Young specimens should be established with some fertilizer to get a head start and once they are developing, the fertilizer can be tapered off. In the winter months, cape honeysuckle usually needs less water and fertilizer.

If the plant becomes invasive and it needs to be removed, it should be cut to the base and the roots should be dug up. Because the plant propagates from cuttings, it is advisable to allow the cuttings to completely dry out before composting them, or to shred the plant after removal so it cannot return. Laying down a weed barrier can keep seedlings from sprouting in the first year after removal, and will give replacement plants a chance to get established.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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