ruby-throated hummingbird finds Vermillionaire to be the perfect
place for a feast.
If you are
thrilled when a hummingbird comes to your feeder, then you will be
ecstatic when they come to the plants you have placed in the
landscape. Though much of the country has the first cold front of the
year in the forecast, hummingbirds are still feeding, and one group of
flowers standing out is the cuphea. If you arenít familiar with that
name then you may know them as Mexican heather, firecracker flower and
heather, known botanically as Cuphea hyssopifolia, has seen a few new
varieties in recent years but none more beautiful than Limelight. In
fact I donít know why everyone hasnít switched over to this
variety. It boasts lime green or chartreuse foliage that is every bit
as showy as a Josephís coats or Cuban Gold duranta but produces
those glorious lavender flowers all season that seem to be a favorite
of the Cloudless Sulphur butterfly.
The Cuphea ignea
gives reference to the Latin word for fire, hence common names like
firecracker flower or firecracker plant. New breeding has changed
things dramatically in the last few years giving us plants like
Ballistic. Instead of red flowers this one loads up with dark lavender
blossoms borne on a more compact plant with a good branching habit.
You will also love the fact that Ballistic blooms all growing season.
selection is a Cuphea ignea hybrid called Vermillionaire. This is a
larger woody-like plant bearing hundreds of scarlet orange flowers for
months. We have two of these in our Cottage Garden, and they are
always being hit on by hummingbirds and butterflies.
The Cuphea ignea
is from Mexico and the Caribbean, where it takes on an evergreen
shrub-like habit. In zones 8 and 9 it will get knocked to the ground
by freezes but normally returns faithfully in the spring provided it
doesnít sit in water during the cold winter. It is certainly worthy
of being planted as an annual next year much like you would a petunia.
llaeva or Bat Faced cuphea is another choice hummingbird plant. In
recent years Totally Tempted has hit the market, garnering two pages
of awards across the country including the "Knock Your Socks
Off" in the University of Georgia Trials. My favorite award name
however is "Best Friend Forever" at Virginia Tech Trials.
But you get the picture ó this is one fine plant. Most of the bat
faced cupheas reach close to 24 inches in height with Totally Tempted
topping out at 12 to 14 inches.
garden, however, would be worth its salt without the Cuphea
micropetala. This is a large flower species reaching over three feet
tall with much larger orange and yellow blossoms. Some refer to this
as the Giant Cigar Plant. It, too, will return from winter
temperatures of around 10 degrees if you use good mulch. Get your
camera ready to take pictures of the hummers on this one!
which cuphea you choose, select a site in full sun, and plant in
well-drained soil. Set out plants 12 to 24 inches apart, planting at
the same depth they are growing in the container. Apply a good layer
of mulch; water to get established, and then enjoy.
In early summer,
pinch growth as needed and more branching will follow. Feed in
mid-summer and again in early fall with a light application of a
balanced, slow-released fertilizer. These species are drought
tolerant, but watering during prolonged dry periods will pay dividends
informally in the garden rather than lined up like soldiers. They work
well with other hummingbird plants like the firebush or planted in
partnership with Chapel Hill yellow lantana and Gold Star esperanza .
In most places in the U.S., the hot weather is still here, and cupheas
would make a fine addition to your garden!