Firebush Is One Tough Texas Flowering Plant

‘Lime Sizzler’ firebush

Hamelia patens (photo from Texas Ag Extension website)

Firebush. aka scarlet bush (Hamelia patens),  is indigenous from Mexico to Central America (USDA hardiness 10-11). Treat it as a tempermental perennial in zone 9, and an annual everywhere else it is not hardy. This fast growing plant blooms through most of summer into fall with showy clusters of tubular red buds and flowers. Firebush thrives in Texas heat from July to September where it finishes as a 4- to 5-foot mound. In the Tropical South, established plants may grow 10 to 12 feet high.

Once established, Firebush is highly drought tolerant and thrives in any average soil that is drains well. Full sunlight is preferable; shoots grow off weak and spindly in 1/2 day shade with reduced flowering. Leaves appear in whorls of between 3 and 7 at the nodes of the stems, and are about 6 inches long and lightly haired. Firebush leaves vary by species, individual plants, and seasonal growing conditions locally. Most often leaves are light to dark green but sometimes purplish or red depending on cultivar. In fall foliage often turns bright red.

Firebush is also called “hummingbird bush” because hummingbirds are attracted to its tubular red flowers. Flowers are in cymes; the terminal and axillary inflorescences are widely forked and showy. Flower buds last longer than the actual flowers themselves. These inflorescences are 2 to 4 inches long and almost as wide. Flower buds emerge yellow, becoming orange. Occasional shearing keeps plants in a nearly perpetual state of bloom.

New in the Southern Living Plant Collection in 2017 is Lime Sizzler™ Firebush which features green and yellow variegated foliage with sizzling red-orange flowers from late spring through fall. Performs well in the landscape or in a container. The cultivar ‘Firefly’ has leaves and flowers about half normal size.

Aphids can be a nuisance on new spring leaves. Caterpillars, lubber grasshoppers, scales, mealybugs and  mites may cause damage. Firebush demands little special care after its first year in the garden Irrigate periodically during first year. Lightly shear the plant a couple of times during the growing season to promote the heaviest flowering

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