The tender perennial cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) is more commonly referred to as the Mexican cigar plant or the firecracker plant. This tropical evergreen shrub has a bright red flower with white and black tips that could bear some similarities to a lit cigar. The word ignea in the botanical name is the Latin word for fire.
If you live in a hot region that mimics the tropical temperatures of its native Mexico and Jamaica, this densely branched plant could appeal. Its small, bright, tubular and orange-red flowers bloom almost year-round, and the plant is a favorite of butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.
For those located in areas that are prone to early or hard frosts, the cigar plant can be grown in containers and moved indoors when winter arrives, or it can simply be treated as an annual.
A small subshrub, it rarely grows above 25 inches in height, so some people even choose to keep it as a permanent addition to their houseplant collection. The continual flowering will add interest in your home throughout the year.
Although the Mexican cigar plant doesn't grow tall, it can form in layers, creating a mounding habit. This can easily be kept under control with light winter pruning.
The plant is useful as an attractive, ornamental, and bright front-positioned border shrub or bedding plant. It's neat and compact form also makes it a great choice for growing in containers that will add a splash of color on patios, balconies or terraces. Just be aware that even when grown as a perennial, cigar plants are not all that long-lived.
|Botanical Name||Cuphea ignea|
|Common Name||Mexican Cigar Plant, Firecracker Plant|
|Plant Type||Perennial, Annual|
|Mature Size||Up to 25 in. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun, Partial Shade|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acid, Neutral, Alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Spring, Summer, Fall|
|Hardiness Zones||10 - 12, USA|
|Native Area||Mexico, Jamaica|
Cigar Plant Care
Providing your Mexican cigar plant gets enough warmth, sun and moisture, you will be treated to beautiful, delicate, and bright blooms through most of the seasons.
You will likely have to take cuttings or grow some new plants from seeds every few years, though, when the original plants start to lose their vigour.
Mexican cigar plants like a full sun or part shade position. In more temperature regions, a full sun position will be best. If they don't get enough light, these plants can develop brown patches on the leaves, particularly after the winter season. They also tend to remain more compact in a less bright position.
This is a tropical plant, so it should come as no surprise that the Mexican cigar plant prefers a fertile, moist, and well-drained soil. Other than this, they are not terribly fussy.
For best flowering potential and growth, Mexican cigar plants prefer moist conditions and appreciate a decent amount of watering. This is especially important when they are establishing and through their growing season.
They do have a high tolerance for hot summers, though, and have some drought-tolerance too. Just don't expect such an impressive and long-lasting array of flowering if you let them get overly dry now and then. In the winter, watering can be significantly reduced, but they do still appreciate being kept moist.
Temperature and Humidity
Mexican cigar plants need a sheltered spot, out of strong winds, and don't forget these plants are frost tender. They will only be able to survive as an annual in areas that have cold winters, or, alternatively, they will need to be brought indoors before the frosts arrive.
If you are keeping this species as a houseplant, they will appreciate regular misting to provide them with the humidity they enjoy. They will even appreciate this during the winter months, as conditions tend to be drier through this season - particularly if you are using heating a lot.
As you would expect from a species that flowers so prolifically, the Mexican cigar plant will appreciate being feed regularly during the growing season. An application of a weak and balanced liquid fertilizer every few weeks should be enough if they are being grown in fertile soil. Fertilization won't be required throughout the winter.
With a lot of sun, Mexican cigar plants can become rather leggy. Pinching can help them to maintain a tidy and compact form. Pruning in late winter can also be beneficial if their form has become untidy.
Propagating Cigar Plants
Mexican cigar plants can be easily propagated from stem cuttings. Select healthy growth in the fall or winter and get the cuttings started off indoors.
How to Grow Cigar Plants From Seed
It is possible to sow the seeds of Mexican cigar plants directly into the ground in late spring if the temperatures are right. Sowing too early can result in overly leggy seedlings as they are quick to grow once they have germinated. Although the seeds have a hard coat, they usually germinate within a few weeks.
If you are concerned about temperatures, you can start the seeds indoors around three months before the expected last frosts.
If you plan to use the ripe seeds from an existing Mexican cigar plant, you can harvest these as soon as you see the little yellow seeds appearing on the stalk. They only stay there for a few days maximum, so you will need to be vigilant.