The bright, colorful shrub known as firebush—native to Mexico, south Florida, and Central and South America—features vibrant green foliage and brilliant orange-red tubular flowers. A fast-growing plant, it should be planted in late spring or summer and can add several feet a year if grown in the proper conditions. Blooms emerge on mature plants in the spring and reoccur throughout autumn, drawing butterflies and hummingbirds.
Firebush also has a history of medicinal usage. Its leaves and stems have been known to treat skin rashes, fungal infections, and insect bites. In Mexico, fruits from the bush (small black berries) are used to make a fermented beverage.
|Common Name||Firebush, scarlet bush|
|Botanical Name||Hamelia patens|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||3–15 ft. tall, 2–6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Flower Color||Orange, orange-red, red|
|Hardiness Zones||8–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Mexico, Central America, South America|
Known for its tropical eye-catching foliage and blooms, firebush shrubs require plenty of heat for optimal growth. Although they will grow in partial shade, they won't bloom as well as they would if given full sun exposure. Beloved for its easy-going nature once established, firebush is a favorite of gardeners living in warmer climates or those who want to bring an air of the tropics to their own backyards.
The firebush is soft-stemmed and has multiple trunks with smooth gray bark. Its leaves are typically light to dark green and covered with fine hairs. They're arranged in whorls of three to five leaves, each of which can grow up to six inches long. Clusters of red-orange tubular flowers are produced throughout the year in tropical climates, and from spring through fall in zones with subtropical winter temperatures.
Following the flowers, small dark berries are produced. The cycles of blossoms and fruits are non-synchronous, so it's not unusual for firebush to have both flowers and fruits appear at the same time.
While firebush can grow to an expansive 10 feet and beyond, it can also be pruned to maintain a more moderate shape, making it a great option for lining a patio, deck, or fencing. It can be grown as either an annual in northern locations or as a perennial in southern climates.
Though firebush can tolerate partial shade, it prefers the warmth of full sunlight, at least six or eight hours a day. It's believed that the more sunlight the plant gets, the more plentiful its blooms will be.
Firebush has the benefit of growing easily in a variety of different soil conditions. That being said, it prefers a mixture that's on the drier side, and whatever type of soil you plant it in should be especially well-draining, as the plant can be prone to root rot. Additionally, soil pH isn't of much importance to firebush—it can thrive in a blend that ranges from neutral to acidic.
The firebush shrub is very drought-tolerant once it reaches established maturity, but it will need to be watered fairly regularly up until that point. Plan to drench it with water every few weeks in its first few seasons, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out completely before watering again.
Temperature and Humidity
Like a true tropical, the firebush shrub loves high heat and is not remotely cold-hardy. In fact, the leaves of the firebush shrub will often turn red or purple if exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a prolonged period of time. Similarly, the plant can easily withstand humid weather, but it is not necessary for successful growth.
Though not imperative to the plant's overall success, firebush can benefit from the added nutrients fertilizer application can lend. Feed your plant in the spring with an application of fertilizer that's designed to boost its blossoming potential.
Types of Firebush
There are two varieties of firebush that are available to purchase, but the latter is not native to the United States and may pose a risk as an invasive species, so look for the Florida native.
- Hamelia patens var. patens (native to Florida)
- Hamelia patens var. glabra (native to Africa and should not be planted in the US to avoid invasive risk)
Little maintenance is required for the firebush shrub, but regular trimming during warm weather will help it keep its desired size and shape. Additionally, you should cut back any winter damage in the spring in order to ensure any new growth can establish itself in the coming season.
If you wish to grow firebush as a small tree instead of a bush, choose the strongest trunk (central leader) and remove all others, as well as any shoots on the lower section of the trunk. Any new growth along the bare trunk should be removed regularly.
Firebush is commonly propagated via cuttings. Here's how:
- What You’ll Need: Healthy plant, scissors, plastic bag, perlite or a sandy mix, containers, rooting hormone (optional)
Where to Cut: Cut with scissors just below a node on a soft, green stem (cutting should be about 6 inches long).
Maintaining the Cutting: Remove the bottom few leaves, dip the stem in water then in rooting hormone (if desired), and slide the stem about 2 inches into a container of well-drained substrate. Keep warm and moist but not soggy. And, most importantly, keep the cuttings in a warm location where the temperature does not fall below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
When to Plant the Cutting: In 3 weeks, transplant the cutting into another pot or the ground.
Firebush can also be propagated with its own seeds, as described below.
How to Grow Firebush From Seed
Firebush grows its seeds in pods that can be harvested once they are dry in the fall. Open the pods to collect the seeds, then plant them in nursery trays. Keep the seeds warm and moist through the winter—the seeds should sprout in about three weeks—and then plant them outdoors in the spring when the frost danger has passed.
Firebush is not at all tolerant of cold temperatures. It can be grown as an annual in regions where winter temperatures drop to freezing (and below), but it will only survive as a perennial if the temperature stays well above freezing.
Firebush is a hearty shrub, but it can occasionally be affected by mites and scale. During the spring months, aphids, caterpillars, lubber grasshoppers, and mealybugs can be problematic. Any issues should be first treated naturally with neem oil before moving on to stronger solutions.
How to Get Firebush to Bloom
The most important element in the blooming of firebush is sunlight. Shrubs in full sun will bloom much more than those in partial or full shade. So, plant your firebush in full sun or remove branches of other plants/trees that are shading the shrub.
Common Problems With Firebush
The most notable issue with fireweed is leaf yellowing or dropping due to over-watering. Water deeply when establishing the shrub, then allow the soil to dry before watering again. This regime will discourage foliage problems as well as opportunistic pests.
Can firebush grow in coastal areas?
Firebush will tolerate salt spray and slightly salty soil, so it fares well in coastal gardens and landscapes.
Does firebush lose its leaves in winter?
Even in warm regions, firebush will lose its leaves over the winter and re-grow them in the spring.
Is firebush a good pollinator plant?
Pollinators like butterflies, bees, moths, and hummingbirds are attracted to the bright flowers of firebush.