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Got Humid Heat? Want Pollinators? Try Firebush!

Some like it hot. While many flowers shrink from the Deep South's summertime heat and humidity, there are many tropical plants that may not survive the winter but will thrive through the hottest summer to provide shots of color in the garden. This year I discovered Firebush, Hamelia patens. In this public domain photo a Zebra longwing butterfly is sipping nectar from a Firebush.It is also called Firecracker Shrub, Scarlet Bush, and Hummingbird Bush. This striking plant will bloom for months, from late spring until frost, and its tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. It provides both larval food and nectar for butterflies. Its also produces berries in the fall that are a treat for songbirds.

This woody perennial shrub is hardy in USDA zones 8b-11. It will grow as an annual in more northern regions of the South, with leaves that turn scarlet red as the temperatures cool. There are actually two forms of Firebush. Hamelia patens is native to Florida, as well as Mexico, the West Indies, and Central and South America. It has red blooms and will grow up to 15 feet tall in southern Florida, though it may be kept to 5 to 8 feet through pruning. A dwarf form, Hamelia patens var. glabra grows only to 4 to 8 feet. It may be planted in a 3 gallon or larger pot. Its blooms are lighter, orange with gold tips, rather than red. This dwarf form is native only to those areas south of the US, though introduced specimens may sometimes reseed themselves in southern Florida. It is just as attractive to wildlife as the taller native.Dwarf Firebush

Loving both heat and humidity, Firebush is a tough, easy-care plant. It will grow in full sun to light shade, in any well-drained soil. It is quite drought tolerant, though it should be watered regularly until it is established. 

My own plant is the dwarf, and I have it in a pot. I plan to move it indoors for winter, since the plant is unlikely to survive our lowest winter temps. Potted plants brought indoors should be protected from both freezing drafts and low humidity. I am really loving this plant. Every day I see bees, butterflies and hummingbirds visiting its blooms.Here is my dwarf firebush in the landscape. It is in a pot adjacent to my patio. 

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Reader Comments (14)

I was at our butterfly conservancy recently and saw both the Zebra butterfly and the Firebush. That could have been a photo I took there it is so similar. Your dwarf bush if such a nice plant. I hope you get an exotic butterfly visiting it! I would be so jealous.

July 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Now this plant should be at home here but I can't say I've ever seen it in my local garden centers. I did pick up a plant with a similar appearance recently, Anisacanthus wrightii, but it seems to be slow about settling in during the summer here. I'll have to take a look around for this Hamelia.

July 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

I have always wanted to grow this. I am not sure how it would do here in Washington but everything else seems to be fine including heat loving plants.

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

This sounds to be a wonderful plant, new to me, I will have to do some research to see if it can be obtained over here.

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

Tried growing firebush last year in Tennessee and unfortunately it was a big disappointment.

It took ages to settle in and by the time it got going in late autumn, frost cut short any chance of the anticipated bloom.

I figured it just needed a longer growing season...

Well, whatever you're doing, it looks like it's working GREAT for you! (And of course for all the pollinators who benefit from your green thumb!) :)

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dalton

Beautiful and attractive to bees birds and butterflies... a perfect plant!

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

How lovely! I really like the Dwarf Firebush, and I can see planting it as an annual up here. Anything that attracts/helps hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies is a wonderful addition.

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

I had never heard of this plant before. It's a beauty!

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Humidity can help plants survive the heat (it doesn't help me though!). Great introduction to this plant.

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

This was a very interesting post. I first saw Firebush at the Mandarin Garden Club a few years ago. I later bought a dwarf variety from one of the members. I have doubted this whole dwarf thing for a while now but this year it stands taller than me AND its flowers are not yellow like yours. They are orange. So I'm thinking I don't have a dwarf. Guess I'll have to move it this winter.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Beautiful shrub. We do get some very hot, humid days - but then again we get plenty of freezing ones, too.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I wish this was hardy in my zone. I love it! I'll take any plant that thrives in the heat.

July 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

I love the firebush it is a hummingbird favorite here in Florida. The plant was sold to me as 'dwarf' but it looks like I planted the monster variety, it keeps growing and growing....

July 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEvelyn

So glad that you like Firebush too and you have taken some beautiful photos of it! I love mine and it is wonderful how just one bush can attract so many hummingbirds. Even here it dies back at the slightest hint of frost although it always comes back, so you are doing the right thing in bringing it in for the winter. Hope it continues to do well for you.

August 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

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