Mr. D’s Plant of the Week Series: The Firebush

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If the sight of hummingbirds and butterflies dancing in your yard brings joy and excitement, then Florida’s native grown Firebush is the shrub you’ll want in your garden or when used as a base plant for large commercial buildings. Besides the flower’s nectar butterflies and hummingbirds sip, the small, black, glossy fruits on the plant are a continuous feast for birds too.

The Hamelia patens, (its scientific name; pronounced: huh-MEE-lee-uh PAY-tenz), from the family of Rubiaceae, is a native semi-woody perennial shrub of Florida. The Firebush has two other names: Scarlet bush and Hummingbird bush. It does grow fast and will reach 12 feet tall and 8 feet across. Though it is a dense soft-stemmed shrub, it doesn’t need support to grow.

How to care for a Firebush

The prime time of the year to plant a small, one-foot tall, Hamelia patens is early spring. By the following year, this woody shrub will be about five feet tall and growing. Throughout the year the Firebush will produce gorgeous orange-red flowers which attract birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

When the bush’s evergreen leaves are young, you will see them covered in red tomentum or thick hairs. When those leaves mature expect to see them speckled with red or purple. Due to its rapid growth and hedge-like thickness, regular clipping and maintenance are required. Be prepared for flower loss during the times of trimming.

The Scarlet bush can handle drought and heat but can die during our winter freezes and cold snaps. It grows better in full sun rather than partial shade. It also prefers plenty of moisture, but its leaves will brown when a strong wind gust across it. Furthermore, to bring out the best in this plant, fertilize sparingly, and monitor your lawn’s grass, but a word of caution, it can invade the shrub’s root zone.

Mr. D’s Firebush pruning guidelines

The first time to prune a Firebush is from early March to the beginning of April. There is no dynamic growth with the shrub during this time frame, which reduces any possible damage. Trimming during this time also prevents flower bud loss. If you prune the plant after spring, then expect to lose many of the blooms causing any fruit to delay forming on the plant.

In our area of north Florida, expect the plant to die in the winter but then bounce back by spring. When you start to see, the leaves drop, that is an indication that stems are going dormant. Now, the Hamelia patens are ready for trimming. Furthermore, wait until the leaves bud out to prevent any frost damage. To preserve the blooms, prune the Firebush when it is at least 5 feet in height. To avoid any disease introduction, ensure the tool’s edges are sharp, and they get thoroughly wiped with an alcohol solution.

If you found the Firebush interesting, then check out the Aspidistra aka The Cast Iron Plant material and let us know your thoughts!