On Gardening: Lime Sizzler, dazzling new firebush

August 22, 2016

The chenille plant is dramatic with its long red cat tail like blooms.

You can spot Lime Sizzler a mile away! Well, that may be a slight exaggeration but the new Lime Sizzler firebush is definitely an attention grabber. Ever since firebush was declared a Texas Super Star Winner, 20 years ago, it has captured the fancy of gardeners, hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Now with the addition of Lime Sizzler, everyone has gone gaga.

Botanically speaking Lime Sizzler is known as Hamelia patens and is native from South Florida to the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America. Lime Sizzler, however, was actually discovered at a nursery in South Texas that then patented the plant. It is so exotic and showy that it seems the entire green industry wants it in its product line including the Southern Living Plant Collection.

The shocking green and yellow foliage would probably be enough to make you lust over the plant but then add the trumpet shaped red/orange flower so loved by the pollinators and itís really more than a plant geek like me can stand. You simply must have it.

Iíll be honest, though, I have never met a firebush I didnít like, so the more the merrier. Lime Sizzler will be more compact, in the 4-foot-by-4-foot range. Most of the country will grow them as annuals and truthfully a most worthy value for your gardening dollar.

The firebush also called hummingbird bush and scarlet bush is related to coffee, gardenia, and the colorful ixora. Technically, it is a zone 9 to 11 plant but will return most years in zone 8. In the Low Country, it is a trooper.

Ours are 4 to 6 feet and indeed have attained that shrubby look even after dying to the ground. Our Lime Sizzlers were planted late this spring from one-gallon containers and are now 2-foot-by-2-foot and even at this size I can spot them across the garden.

In addition to the Lime Sizzler we are growing the typical green form, and several plants of the variety Firefly. Firefly has smaller leaves and more yellow showing in the blossoms. We are also growing the Bahama firebush, Hamelia cuprea, that has glossy leaves and much larger flowers almost reminiscent of an esperanza or tecoma but more bell-shaped.

When the torrid temperatures of August arrive, many gardeners look for those plants that are as tough-as-nails when it comes to heat and drought conditions. I am happy to say the firebush fits the bill. It is very heat and drought tolerant once established, and will grow in almost any soil that is well-drained.

Even now you could consider planting two or three for a nice show. We are planting Lime Sizzler in our cottage garden with the iridescent Purple Flash ornamental pepper. Even though they are tough as nails apply a good layer of mulch after planting.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden, we use the other firebush varieties in our Mediterranean garden where we have them combined with the Purple on Purple Mexican bush sage, European fan palms, and giant blue agave. You will find Lime Sizzler so colorful you may want to try some in containers around the porch patio or pool. I hope you will give all of the firebush a try.



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