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Start a Conversation with Bat-faced Cuphea

Cuphea llavea, commonly called Bat-faced Cuphea, is a real conversation starter. It has lance-shaped green leaves and tubular flowers topped with what look much like purple "bat faces" with bright red "ears." It is one of the most interesting blooms I have seen:

I discovered this plant earlier this year at another gardener's home and soon found three for my own garden. This is a native perennial in Mexico and Central America, but it usually grows as an annual below USDA hardiness zone 10. In zones 8-9, it sometimes will survive the winter if well mulched, dying down at frost, then returning with warmer spring temperatures. It can grow in the ground or in a pot. If in a pot, it may be overwintered inside by a bright window.

Cuphea blooms over a long season, from late spring till frost. The bat faces are small but are produced in abundance and do not need to be deadheaded.
There are now cultivars that produce blooms other than red, such as pink, purple and white. The nectar-rich blooms are very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Plant Bat-faced Cuphea in full sun in well-draining, rich, organic soil. In intensely hot regions it can take some afternoon shade. It should be watered regularly until the roots are established. After that it is fairly drought tolerant.

It can grow up to two feet tall by three feet wide. When it is about ten inches tall or when it becomes leggy, the plant may be pinched or sheared back to produce a bushier, more floriferous plant. I definitely recommend this. Mine have become leggy, producing blooms mostly at the end of the stem. Mine are getting pinched this week! Fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer, or use a slow-release fertilizer in spring.

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Reader Comments (11)

It is a fascinating flower! The larger-flowered bat-faced Cupheas have never done as well for me as the smaller-flowered cigar-shaped Cupheas but the latter are very tough plants here in SoCal. My favorites are the hybrids 'Starfire Pink' and 'Vermillionaire'.

August 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

What a fun plant! I've seen it in pots here in the north, so people are either growing it as annuals or overwintering it in pots. So colorful, too. Do the hummingbirds and other pollinators visit it?

August 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBeth@PlantPostings

Hi Beth, yes, the pollinators love it. I wish I could get a photo of a hummingbird visiting it! Deb

August 25, 2019 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

What a striking color combination. It really looks like a little bat face.

August 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

That's a fascinating flower. I'll try a plant if I ever see one for sale. The 'Vermillionaire' which is a hybrid is a great plant here.

August 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterhb

That is a cool plant. I'm going to call it a Clemson plant! I need to grow them next year!

August 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKarin/Southern Meadows

That one bottom left looks like a skull, with fangs. The red ears are gorgeous!

August 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

That is hilarious! Some years I grow Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea) as an annual, but if I ever saw this one in the garden center I would have to buy it for the name alone!

August 30, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJason

What an interesting flower -- a conversation starter for sure.

September 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Hmmm, there’s an annual I haven’t tried yet, and so unique too.

September 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Ruff Leja

That is a fun plant--and a conversation-starter! I might try to grow it as an annual sometime. I'm always adding new flowers for the hummingbirds. :)

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBeth@PlantPostings

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