How to Grow and Care for Mexican Heather

Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) plant blooming with pink flowers

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Mexican Heather is a small shrub native to Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Naturalized to Hawaii, it is quite tolerant of salt. Small, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom with six spreading petals, usually lavender, and green calyx tubes from summer to frost on a multi-stem plant reaching up to 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide when mature. Leaves are lance-shaped, glossy, and green, measuring about a quarter of an inch long. While it looks a lot like common heather, it is not part of the heather family and therefore nicknamed "false heather." The genus name Cuphea originated from the Greek word kyphos, which means curved or humped in shape as are the plant's seed capsules. Flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies such as the common sootywing, and Southern Plains Bumble Bee.

Botanical Name Cuphea hyssopifolia
Common Name  Mexican Heather, Elfin Herb, False Heather, Hawaiian Heather
Family Lythraceae
Plant Type  Evergreen shrub
Mature Size  1 to 2 ft. tall, 1 to 4 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun to light/part shade
Soil Type  Loam or Clay (Average, medium, well-drained)
Soil pH  Slightly acidic (5.5 to 7)
Bloom Time Summer to frost
Bloom Color  Purple, Pink, White
Hardiness Zones  9b-11, USDA
Native Area  Central America (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras)
Toxicity  Toxic

Mexican Heather Care

Plant Mexican Heather only after the soil has warmed. Use as a container plant, a border plant, along walkways, or in small spaces. This small shrub can also hang attractively in a basket. Group it in pots around a patio, a pool or other water feature.

Light

Give it full sun or light shade. While Mexican Heather does well in full sun, the foliage stays a little greener in part shade.

Soil

Plant Mexican Heather in average, well-drained loam or clay. Slightly acidic soil is best with a low pH between 5.5 and 7. In desert alkaline soils common to the dry heat of Phoenix, the plant may be prone to yellow leaf cholorsis. Amend the soil by mixing in peat moss or using acid forming fertilizers.

Water

Mexican Heather thrives with lots of moisture and is considered a classic "mesic" plant in Phoenix. Water regularly or, if needed, heavily in such desert landscapes.

Fertilizer

Mulch generously with organic matter. Feed the plant often with a light fertilizer.

Temperature and Humidity

Evergreen in warm climates or indoors, Mexican Heather is hardy in USDA Zones 9b through 11. Growing best in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, it tolerates high summer heat and some drought. It will not tolerate frost, but it can survive chilling temperatures as low as 35 degrees. Mexican Heather may survive in Zone 9a if protected from hard freezes. In colder climates, grow this plant as an annual.

Types of Mexican Heather

While Mexican Heather usually comes in purple, some cultivars are white or pink.

  • 'FloriGlory™ Corazon' has light violet purple flowers.
  • ‘Mexican Heather White’ grows vigorously in Florida.
  • 'FloriGlory Diana' boasts magenta flowers that are especially large and abundant in number.

Pruning

Prune Mexican Heather a bit in spring, only if necessary. Bring older plants back to life in early spring or late winter with more intense pruning or shearing.

Propagating

Propagate by softwood cuttings or by seed.

Growing from Seed

Start seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date. Or, collect seedlings outdoors and transplant them under other plants in a landscaped bed. Search for seedlings near the original plant and also further away from it as seeds can be carried in the rain runoff water.

Common Pests and Diseases

Though rare to Mexican Heather, keep an eye out for nematodes, mites, and caterpillars. Nematodes can weaken the plant to the point of decline and flea beetles can leave a plant completely barren of leaves.

FAQ
  • What is the difference between Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) and the European family of Heathers?

    The Cuphea genus is made of more than 200 hundred species across North, Central, and South America. Cuphea hyssopifolia is native to Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. The species name "hyssopifolia" suggests its similarity to the foliage of the herb hyssop. Mexican Heather or False Heather is not related to the European family of heathers. Heather (Calluna vulgaris) is a small ever green shrub native to Europe, Asia, and North America. Unlike Mexican Heather, these plants need cool weather and only partial sun.

  • Can Mexican Heather be grown indoors?

    Yes. Overwinter plants in containers in warm, partly sunny spots.

  • Where should I put my Mexican Heather inside?

    Set the plant on a windowsill. Give it about four hours of direct sunlight daily. Morning to afternoon light is best; avoid exposing it to intense midday rays. If the foliage looks faded, move the pot to a brighter spot with still indirect light. Make sure the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night and does not go above 75 degrees during the day.

Article Sources
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  1. “Cuphea Hyssopifolia (Elfin Herb, False Heather, Hawaiian Heather, Mexican Heather) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.” North Caroline Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/cuphea-hyssopifolia.

  2. “Cuphea Hyssopifolia - Plant Finder.” Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a113.

  3. “Mexican-Heather.” Encyclopedia of Life, eol.org/pages/582103.

  4. “Scientific: Cuphea Hyssopifolia.” Arizona State University, www.public.asu.edu/~camartin/plants/Plant%20html%20files/cupheahybrid.html.

  5. Gilman, Edward. “Cuphea Hyssopifolia.” University of Florida: Cooperative Extension Service, Oct. 1999, hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/shrub_fact_sheets/cuphysa.pdf.