How to Grow and Care for Cigar Plants

Cigar plant branches with orange and yellow tubular flowers

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

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.

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 to 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. Its neat and compact form also makes it an excellent 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.

Common Name Mexican cigar plant, firecracker plant
Botanical Name Cuphea ignea
Family Lythraceae
Plant Type Perennial, annual
Mature Size 1-2 ft. tall, 2-3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Moist, well-drained, loamy, clay, sandy
Soil pH Acid, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring, summer, fall
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones 10-12 (USDA)
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 vigor.

Cigar plant shrub with mounding branches and yellow-orange tubular flowers

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Cigar plant branches with tubular yellow and orange flowers and buds

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Cigar plant branch with yellow and orange tubular flowers closeup

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Light

Mexican cigar plants like to be in 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.

Soil

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.

Water

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 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.

Fertilizer

During the growing season, as you would expect from a species that flowers so prolifically, the Mexican cigar plant will appreciate being fed regularly. 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.

Pruning

With a lot of sun, Mexican cigar plants can become rather leggy. Pinching can help them maintain a tidy and compact form, simply pinch off the stem tips. This will encourage the plant to produce new branches. 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. You can also take cuttings in early spring for ones that will be placed in containers. Here's how:

  1. Using scissors or pruning shears, snip a healthy cutting(s) about 3 to 4 inches in length from the plant.
  2. Take the cut edge of the cutting(s) and dip it into root hormone.
  3. Put the cutting(s) in a container prepared with potting soil and water until moist.
  4. Placing multiple cuttings together in one pot is a good way to start rooting and growing these plants.

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.

Potting Cigar Plants

Cigar plants are an excellent choice to plant in a large container with drainage holes for an outside patio or front entryway. They also can be a decorative potted plant inside, just pot it in a nice clay pot, with a saucer attached or placed underneath, to catch any water that drains out of the container after watering. To put in a pot, simply use good potting soil and place the plant in the pot making sure to cover the roots and about 1/2 to 1-inch of the stem.

Overwinterizing

For those 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. Keep it in a warm place in the house that gets sun, and the soil should be kept slightly moist.

Common Pests

The Mexican cigar plant is generally free from pests or diseases. Common pests that might visit this plant's leaves are aphids, which can be taken care of with neem oil.

How to Get a Cigar Plant to Bloom

These plants bloom profusely, beginning in the spring and going through to the fall. If cared for properly, you will enjoy a profusion of its brightly colored flowers. Plant them in soil that is kept moist and well-drained, locate them in full to partial sun, and keep them watered. Pinching the stem tips when they start getting too long and look leggy will also help keep this plant healthy and blooming.

FAQ
  • How fast do cigar plants grow?

    These plants can reach their full maturity height of 24 inches within one year if the growing conditions are right for them.

  • What are good companion plants for Mexican cigar plants?

    Pair these plants with Mexican heather, marigold, million bells, dahlia, and other sun-loving flowering plants.

  • Are Mexican cigar plants deer-resistant?

    Absolutely! Not only are they deer-resistant, but rabbits also don't find them tasty either.