Consider the hummingbird bush, also known as flame acanthus, if you're looking for a tough but showy and vibrant addition to xeriscape landscaping. The spring-to-fall blooming vibrant orange or red tubular flowers on this Texas native shrub are perfect for attracting hummingbirds to your yard. This drought-tolerant, heat-loving plant needs plenty of sun, is adaptable to most soils, grows well in pots, and has a flaky bark that adds winter interest.
|Common Name||Hummingbird Bush, Flame Acanthus, Wright's Desert Honeysuckle, Wright's Mexican Flame|
|Botanical Name||Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii|
|Plant Type||Shrub, Perennial|
|Mature Size||Up to 5 ft. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Sun, Part Shade|
|Soil pH||Acid, Alkaline, Neutral|
|Bloom Time||Summer, Fall|
|Flower Color||Red, Orange|
|Hardiness Zones||7-10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Hummingbird Bush Care
Here are the main care requirements for growing a hummingbird bush:
- Place in full or partial sun. Avoid dense shade.
- Water sparingly once established. Although supplemental watering during dry summers encourages abundant blooms.
- Plant in well-draining soil.
- Plant in the fall after the extreme summer heat.
The hummingbird bush, as you would expect of a Texan native, prefers a full sun position, but it tolerates partial, dappled shade. Just steer clear of densely shaded spots in your yard if you want to see the bright blooms on this bush.
The hummingbird bush isn't fussy about soil types, often thriving in rocky, infertile soils in wild habitats. It even tolerates clay soils, providing they are well-draining.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the Texas-native hummingbird bush is a drought-tolerant shrub. However, it's best to offer a deep weekly watering after planting while the soil settles around the roots.
Once established, after the first growing season, water sparingly, only during periods of drought in the summer months. Even then, deep monthly watering is typically sufficient. If there has been decent rainfall, skip watering altogether. Too much water can result in root rot.
A typical desert plant, this species will treat you to a flush of fresh blooms after a decent rainfall.
Temperature and Humidity
For a desert species, the hummingbird bush is fairly cold-tolerant. It stays root hardy down to around zero degrees Fahrenheit, even though it might freeze to the ground in winter. If this happens, don't panic. New top growth will appear in the spring.
If temperatures drop as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the bush typically displays a deciduous habit, losing its leaves in the winter but still providing interest with its exfoliated bark. It has a semi-evergreen growing habit when temperatures remain above 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hummingbird bushes thrive in poor desert soils, so you won't need to fertilize this low-maintenance shrub. However, adding a layer of compost in the early spring can help boost slow growth and encourage abundant blooms.
Propagating Hummingbird Bush
If you want to make more hummingbird bushes, propagating via softwood cuttings from the current year's growth is the most common way to do this. Selecting tender stems from spring to mid-summer is typically the best strategy for success. Here's how to propagate your hummingbird bush from softwood cuttings:
- Use sterile shears to take a 4 to 6-inch cutting from a branch. Make the snip just underneath a plant node.
- Remove lower leaves, keeping between two and four at the top of the stem.
- Dip in rooting hormone, if you have it, to encourage the cutting to take root.
- Fill a starter pot with a sterile growing medium and embed the cutting into the medium up to just below the leaves.
- Covering loosely with a plastic bag is an optional step to help retain moisture.
- Position in a spot where the cutting will receive bright but indirect light.
- Dampen the soil when it feels dry. While these shrubs are drought tolerant, keep the growing medium for cuttings consistently moist but not soggy.
- Once new roots are well formed and substantial new green growth appears, transfer your cutting to a permanent position.
How to Grow Hummingbird Bush From Seed
It's also possible to grow hummingbird bushes from seed. If you want to give this a whirl, follow the steps below:
- Collect seeds when the seed heads start to dry out and become brown. Do this before the capsules break open.
- Store the seeds in a cool, dry spot and allow them to dry out. Alternatively, keep them in your refrigerator until you sow them in the spring.
- Sow the seeds indoors or directly in the ground, ensuring there is no danger of late frosts. Indoor seed starting tends to result in a sturdier plant.
- Select a well-drained soil mix and sow the seeds around half an inch deep.
- Ensure the soil remains moist but not soggy.
- Pick a well-lit spot if you are germinating the seeds indoors.
- Harden off seedlings growing indoors. Gradually introduce them to more time outdoors over a week to two weeks before transplanting them to their outdoor spot.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
One of the big bonuses of the hummingbird bush is that this resilient species doesn't have any known major pest or disease issues. The main thing to watch out for is root rot as a result of overwatering.
How to Get Hummingbird Bush to Bloom
The star attraction of the hummingbird bush is the bright red or orange tubular blooms. And it's a bonus that they attract pollinators like hummingbirds to your yard.
The first blooms on your hummingbird bush will typically appear in June, but in some regions, you might be able to appreciate them in late spring. During the intense heat of July, bloom growth typically slows down and this is when supplemental watering is often helpful. If conditions are right, you'll still see abundant blooms well into fall until the first frosts arrive.
What Do Hummingbird Bush Flowers Look and Smell Like?
The bright red or orange blooms of the Hummingbird bush are 2 inches long, thin, and have an almost trumpet-like appearance, and this is what makes them so attractive to hummingbirds. These pollinators are known to prefer red plants and those with vasiform structures.
How to Encourage More Blooms
If you offer a bright enough spot in dry heat, your hummingbird bush should produce plentiful blooms with little effort on your part. However, offering a careful amount of supplemental irrigation during the hottest and driest months (usually July and August) helps promote more blooms during this period. Winter pruning also encourages more vigorous blooming the following season.
How much sunlight does a hummingbird bush need?
Hummingbird bushes are light lovers and thrive when they receive at least six to eight hours of full sun. They can tolerate a dappled shade position, but you might not see such prolific blooming.
Are hummingbird bushes invasive?
The hummingbird bush is a native plant from south-central and west Texas to northern Mexico. Native plants are not considered invasive in their territories. Fortunately, if you want to try growing this plant outside its native range, it isn't listed as invasive in any other areas either. Although in some warm regions, its fast growth and hardy nature could make it a nuisance if grown alongside more delicate species.
Should you cut back hummingbird bushes?
Pruning isn't necessary for the hummingbird bush. However, most flame acanthus enthusiasts recommend severely pruning the shrub every few winters to encourage abundant blooms the following season. It also results in a dense, compact shape rather than a straggly and leggy appearance. After it dies back to the ground in the winter, prune it back severely around February. During other years, lightly pruning in the fall helps the plant retain a neat form.
Are hummingbird bushes deer-resistant?
If Bambi is a regular visitor around your yard, planting the deer-resistant hummingbird bush is a good strategy. These shrubs also make for great wildlife habitats, and butterflies also love the blooms.