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, making it a popular addition to gardens and landscapes alike.
Firebush also has a history of medicinal usage—its leaves and stems have been known to treat skin rashes, fungal infections, insect bites, as well as being used for tanning. In Mexico, fruits from the bush (small black berries) are used to make a fermented beverage.
|Botanical Name||Hamelia patens|
|Common Name||Firebush, scarlet bush|
|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 their 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 a necessity 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.
Little maintenance is required for the firebush shrub, but regular trimming during warm weather will help it keep it's 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.
Common Pests and Diseases
Firebush is a relatively pest- and disease-free varietal. However, it can fall prey to common issues, like mites and scale. During the spring months, aphids are occasionally a problem, as well as caterpillars, lubber grasshoppers, and mealybugs. Any issues should be first treated naturally with neem oil before moving on to stronger solutions.