This native plant blooms for months, attracting both birds and butterflies, and is practically bullet-proof once established.
Firebush is a perennial or semi-woody shrub that is known scientifically as Hamelia patens. Gardeners love firebush because it produces flowers from late spring until the first frost, and the bright red flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies, including the zebra longwing and gulf fritillary butterflies. Song birds also like to feed on the berries.
The plant's mature size will depend on where it is grown. In South Florida it may reach fifteen feet tall, though it can easily be kept to five or eight feet tall. It works well in hedges, mixed borders, or as a stand-alone shrub. In North Florida, it will die back after the first freeze but will re-grow in the spring, making it what some people call a "root-hardy perennial."
It is also a great plant because it is heat and drought tolerant once established, can grow in a range of soils, and has no serious insect or disease problems.
Dwarf firebush (Hamelia patens var. glabra) is a related plant that is shorter, produces lighter colored flowers, has smoother leaves, and is not native. Nurseries will sometimes sell these same plants under the name Hamelia patens 'Dwarf' or 'Compacta.' There is also a new cultivar called H. patens 'Firefly' that has leaves and flowers that are about half the normal size.
Planting and Care
Firebush can be planted in late spring or summer in USDA zones 8-11. It will grow and flower best if planted in full sun, but it can also be planted in partial shade. Firebush is also moderately tolerant of salt spray, which can be helpful for gardeners in coastal areas.
Firebush can be planted in any well-drained soil and will do best if it is watered regularly until it is established.
Plants may need to be pruned to keep them to a desired height, especially in South Florida where they grow year round. Firebush is typically pruned no shorter than five or eight feet, since pruning too hard or too frequently may reduce blooming.
For more information on firebush, contact your county Extension office.