A Florida native plant that offers orange-red flowers throughout most of the year, Firebush is a large, soft-stemmed shrub that can reach a height of 8 to 12 feet, grows quickly, tolerates shade to full sun (showing the best color in partial to full sun) and is drought tolerant once established.
Clusters of five-lobed, tubular, bright orange-red flowers throughout the warm months are followed by berries that progress through an attractive transition in color from amber to red and finally black.
According to the Florida Wildflower Foundation website, credited for the photograph by Forest and Kim Starr, the leaves, stems and flowers have medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, analgesic and diuretic treatments. This website also offers important information about successfully growing this plant.
Photo by Forest and Kim Starr
In cold weather, the foliage takes on a burnish color offering a nice visual to the landscape. Leaf loss may occur in very cold temperatures, but plants typically bounce back during spring. The Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) website indicates that this species will die back if it freezes and usually resprouts from the base, which has been true at VISTA Gardens in recent years.
Zebra longwing on resprouting Firebush
Photo by Vicki Kuse
Birds and small mammals eat the fruits and disperse seeds. Hummingbirds come for nectar, as do many butterflies and bees, including bumblebees and halictid bees (Augochlora pura). The Firebush is a larval host for the pluto sphinx moth.
A popular plant for wildlife gardeners and anyone wanting a large native shrub with color, the Firebush is used in landscaping as an accent, border, screen or mass planting.
University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) recommends transplanting this shrub April through September in Zone 9, emphasizing that although tolerant of shade, flowering will be diminished. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp237
Purchase native Firebush Hamelia patens transplants from a reliable Florida native plant nursery. The Hamelia Mess: A thorough critique of the genus in Florida by Florida firebush expert Roger L. Hammer, is available at: https://www.fann.org/info/plants/the-hamelia-mess/