One of the most unusual members of the Lythraceae family, Cuphea llavea (KYOO-fee-uh LAH-vay-uh) is known as the vampire’s favorite flower. It gets its common name of bat faced cuphea from the striking resemblance of its blooms to the face of a bat.
Other common names include bunny ears, cuphea, red cuphea, St. Peter’s plant, and tiny mice.
This broadleaf evergreen sub-shrub is native to Mexico and other parts of Central America. Orange bat-faced cuphea (Cuphea oreophila) is one of several species closely related to llavea which tend to share its name.
Bat Face Cuphea Care
Size & Growth
This fast-growing sub-shrub may attain a height of 2 ½’ feet tall when grown as a perennial but tends to only reach 12″ to 18″ inches tall if grown as an annual.
The rounded, bushy habit features stems crowded with thick dark green evergreen leaves grow up to 3” inches long. These ovate leaves are thick, hairy, and rough to the touch.
Flowering and Fragrance
Beginning in late spring, bat-faced cuphea produces clusters of tubular flowers that last until the first frost. Traditionally, bloom colors are purple, white, and red.
However, newer cultivars have greatly extended the range of available colors. In all cases, the scent attracts a wide range of pollinators.
The common name is derived from the 1” inch hairy purple calyx extending upwards from each flower, adorned with two upwards facing petals.
Four petal remnants below create a face to go with the developed petal “ears”. A few cultivars feature these lower leaves fully developed.
As this plant produces continuous blooms throughout the season, deadheading isn’t required to maintain its bloom time display.
The seeds are small, brown, and lentil shaped; and may be found at the base of spent flowers.
Light & Temperature
Despite what its name suggests, bat-faced cuphea prefers full sun to be at its best.
Outdoor plants may require partial shade in desert regions. Indoor plants will require at least four hours of full sun daily.
USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11 are best for this plant, remaining evergreen in temperatures just under 30° degrees Fahrenheit.
However, it’s best in colder climates to grow cuphea in containers that can be overwintered indoors.
For overwintering, a temperature of around 60° degrees Fahrenheit and reduced watering will keep the plant healthy until the next growing season.
Watering and Feeding
Ideally, cuphea fares best in evenly moist soil, although it’s able to handle periods of drought.
For a healthier plant in desert conditions, water moderately. Be careful not to overwater this plant, as it’s susceptible to root rot.
Garden-based bat face may either be given a dose of slow-release granular plant food in the spring or monthly feedings of an all-purpose liquid fertilizer. Container plants should have monthly feedings.
Soil & Transplanting
Bat face needs a well-drained soil, but isn’t picky about the acidity. As a general rule, a light, compost-rich blend works best.
In cases where temperatures drop below what the foliage can handle but stays above 20° degrees Fahrenheit, the roots may survive. Insulate the soil with heavy mulching and the plant may still recover.
Transplanting cuphea is quick and easy. Simply dig a hole the size of the plant’s previous container and tuck the root ball in.
When transplanting seedlings outdoors, make sure they are spaced 24″ to 36” inches apart so they have room to grow.
Grooming And Maintenance
St. Peter’s plant has low maintenance requirements, although a little pruning in late winter will allow for some degree of shaping.
You may also pinch or prune when the plant begins to get too leggy.
How To Propagate Bat Face Cuphea
It’s easy to propagate this plant from seeds. Simply collect and dry the seeds as flowers fade.
These may then be germinated 10 to 12 weeks before the final frost is expected or planted directly when the danger of frost has passed.
In both cases, scatter the seeds on top of the soil and add a thin layer of milled peat to protect them without blocking their access to sunlight.
Cuphea seeds should never be buried. Germination usually takes 7 to 10 days at 70° degrees Fahrenheit.
Another easy propagation method is through softwood cuttings. These cuttings should be 4″ to 6” inches long and taken from a healthy plant. Remove the lower leaves and dip the cuttings in root hormone.
Then place in pots filled with an all-purpose soil mix and locate the pots in a safe location with bright, indirect light until the new roots take hold.
You may also choose to divide large plants as a third means of propagation.
Cuphea Llavea Pest or Diseases
Bat-faced cuphea is drought tolerant and fairly heat tolerant, although it may require part shade on especially sunny days in arid regions. Conversely, overwatering may lead to root rot, so it may be best to underwater when in doubt.
Suggested Bat Faced Cuphea Uses
One of the best features of this cuphea is the nectar-rich flowers.
Not only are these a perfect accent for edging paths and borders, the sweet scent attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees for an even more showy display. They also work well among annual flowerbeds.
As a container plant, pick some attractive urns or pots for a garden accent that may be brought indoors to overwinter.
They look great on patios and will also take to hanging baskets and flower boxes for more line-of-sight enjoyment.