By: Liz Baessler
Firebush earns its name two ways – one for its blazing red foliage and flowers, and one for its ability to thrive in extreme summer heat. Keep reading to learn more about using firebush shrubs in your landscape and in your daily life.
Firebush plants are native to the American tropics and subtropics, and are very tolerant of both heat and drought. They flower throughout almost the entire year (provided they’re not exposed to frost) and have bright red foliage in the fall. Because of this, they are very useful in gardens with oppressively hot summers, providing colorful, flashy interest when most other plants would wither.
Their red, tubular flowers are also extremely attractive to hummingbirds, making them an obvious choice for hummingbird gardens and easily observable spots near windows and porches. They also grow very well in mass plantings, where they form a sea of bright red leaves in autumn.
They can be planted in rows to achieve a dense and beautiful hedge effect as well, although they will require a certain amount of pruning to keep growth in check.
While it is primarily prized for its attractiveness in the landscape, there are several other uses for firebush. The small, black, oval berries are completely edible, although they aren’t especially tasty eaten raw. Many gardeners cook them into jellies, jams, and syrups.
There’s a long history of using firebush as a medicinal plant, especially in Central America. Extracts from the leaves have been used for centuries for their antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Teas made from leaves, flowers, and stems have been used to treat wounds, burns, insect bites, fever, menstrual cramps, and diarrhea.
As always, it’s best to consult with a doctor before self-medicating with this or any plant.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician or a medical herbalist for advice.
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Orange flowers tipped with gold set off the beauty of dwarf firebush, a great butterfly plant for South Florida home landscapes.
This delightful shrub blooms on and off all year - more during warmer weather - and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to its brightly-colored, tubular flowers.
It has a light and airy charm and looks best when it's hand-trimmed to form a natural mounded shape, rather than trying to keep it manicured with hedge trimmers.
Now this is not the native variety, for all you native plant purists out there, though many nurseries sell the dwarf as just "firebush," which can get confusing.
Here's how to tell the difference:
The native grows larger and has slightly "hairy" leaves and deep red to red-orange flowers. It's dwarf "cousin" can be kept smaller and more compact, though with a similar informal look.
The smaller variety has smoother leaves and a touch of yellow to the blossoms. and requires a bit more care.
This shrub is a fast grower that can be kept 3 feet tall and wide, though you can let it grow larger if you prefer.
It does best in Zone 10. unlike the native variety which usually comes back even if cold kills it to the ground.
Though considered evergreen, the plant can lose leaves during a cold winter, though with proper pruning in spring it should sprout new growth and flush out again. A location sheltered from winter winds will help protect it.
These plants prefer full to partial sun, though they'll grow in part shade, where they'll flower less with more open growth.
Add top soil or organic peat humus to the hole when you plant.
You can also add composted cow manure to enrich the soil around the plant's roots.
Trim lightly to shape anytime, but do a harder pruning in spring (late March or early April) or fall (late September or early October) for size.
Water regularly. It's not as drought-tolerant as its native cousin but don't keep it overly wet.
Fertilize 3 times a year - in spring, summer and fall - with a good quality granular fertilizer.
Place 3 feet apart and come away from the house 2-1/2 to 3 feet.
If you're planting along a walk or drive, come in 3 feet.
This shrub can be grown in a container.
GOOD SNOWBIRD PLANT? MAYBE - with year-round irrigation and a sheltered location
The toxic nature of some of the plants poisonous to dogs will probably come as no surprise to some of you. The danger posed by foxglove, for example, is fairly common knowledge. A few plants, such as dogbane, even announce their toxicity in their very names. If only it was always that easy to determine which plants can make your dog sick. The only other entry on this list that gives itself away so easily is monkshood, which is also known as "wolfsbane."
To say that the Hamelia firebush is an all-round plant that is a delight to have in your garden is an understatement. We feel that we can’t give this wondrous plant its fair dues. And so far we have been talking about the splendid flowers and juicy berries. But, the truth is, this is first and foremost a landscaping plant. Those red stalks and equally scarlet leaves stand out in your garden like a fiery bush.
Some examples of landscaping use for the firebush plants include