Hamelia patens [ham-EE-lee-uh, PAT-ens] (syn. Hamelia erecta) is a beautiful flowering species of small trees or perennial shrubs belonging to the coffee tree or madder family, Rubiaceae.
The native plant heeds from the American subtropics.
In the United States, it’s commonly found in southern Florida.
It is also found in Central America and South America, especially in Argentina.
The fiery blooms on the plant have earned the plant common names including:
- The firecracker shrub
- Scarlet bus
It is also known to attract hummingbirds, aptly earning the name “hummingbird bush”.
In Belize, the plant’s Mayan name is Ix Canaan. It is also locally known as the “Guardian of the Forest”.
Hamelia Patens Care
Size & Growth
The beautiful flowers of the plant are accented by whorls of pointed, oval, gray-green leaves that may be up to 6” inches long with pink veins.
The leaves turn red in the fall and match the reddish stems and leafstalks.
It has a dense growth habit.
When the growing conditions of their native habitat are met, they can grow as much as a small tree at 10’ – 15’ feet tall.
Annuals, on the other hand, reach a height of 2’ – 3’ feet during the growing season.
Flowering and Fragrance
The plant is known to have a long bloom time, producing an abundance of flowers.
The flower color is usually reddish-orange.
The showy flowers grow spectacularly and appear in terminal clusters or cymes in summer and fall.
These flowers are small and look like firecrackers, earning the plant “firecracker shrub” as a common name.
Light & Temperature
The plant is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 10.
This means they grow well as an annual in warmer climates.
Temperatures between 85° – 101° degrees Fahrenheit (29° – 38° C) are suitable and even ensure healthy growth.
The plant enjoys full sunlight but it can also thrive in partial shade.
Firebush’s light requirements also depend on whether you’re growing the plant indoors or outdoors.
The plant is hardy, drought-tolerant, and resistant to extreme heat.
Watering and Feeding
The scarlet bush has average watering needs.
With the plants growing in well-drained soil, you have to provide regular water to keep the soil moist without overwatering it.
As for feeding, a time-release fertilizer during the growing season may help the plant flower better.
Soil & Transplanting
These fairly easy to grow plants do not have strict soil requirements.
An average, well-drained soil with medium moisture will do perfectly well.
The one detail you can’t really skimp out on with these plants is the drainage.
This ensures the roots get plenty of hydration without getting root rot.
As for transplanting, the tubers react well to being moved.
You just have to ensure the sections are planted in good soil and get plenty of water and sunlight.
Grooming and Maintenance
Not much maintenance is required to keep the Firebush plant looking great.
The plant deadheads old flowers itself, giving space to new flowers to bloom fully.
Prune the growth to keep it in bloom and give it a little bit of shape.
How To Propagate Firebush Plants
Hamelia patens plant may be propagated with seeds and cuttings.
- Collect pods and remove the seeds once they are dry.
- Moisten the peat in seedling trays and sow them.
- Place the tray indoors, in an area getting full sunlight.
- Germination being 3 weeks later.
- Once the seedlings are big enough to handle, move them to tier permanent location and with good growing conditions, you will notice plenty of orange-red flowers soon enough.
- Get 6”-inch long cuttings with a few leaves and place them in perlite.
- Place under full sun and give plenty of water to keep the soil hydrated.
- When the last frost of the season has passed, place the cutting in their permanent position outdoors.
Firebush Pest or Diseases
This plant species is free of serious pest and disease problems.
However, there may be some exceptions with some common indoor plant problems, especially if another plant has it.
Keep an eye out for:
As for diseases:
- Root rot
- Powdery mildew
- Grey mold
… can affect the plants.
Fortunately, these problems are easy to resolve with a trip to your local gardening center.
Hamelia Patens Uses
The Mexican firecracker bush is quite glorious when planted in hedges and garden borders as an accent plant.
When you’re growing the plant as an annual, you can use them in borders, cottage gardens, and even in some containers.
Since the flowers of these plants attract pollinators, they can be used in pollinator gardens designed to bring bees, butterflies, and birds like hummingbirds for pollination.
The fruits on the large shrub have an acidic taste.
These are used to make a fermented drink in Mexico.
In folk medicine, this plant is used to treat a number of ailments.