Firebush (Hamelia patens var. glabra)

I am easily amused as I watch the bees visit the near-by Firebush and soon, I begin to fantasize.  The homeowner has a 5′ tall hedge of Ixora on the property and in my fantasy, I am ripping out the Ixora and installing more Firebush.

With a love for wildlife gardening and a strong belief in low maintenance landscaping, I think we need to PLANT MORE FIREBUSH!  It just makes sense, when comparing the two, I’ve had  far more issues with Ixora, plus you can get native Firebush.

Hamelia patens

I’m categorizing this post as “Florida friendly” because the plant on this property, is not the native Firebush and I don’t want to mislead.  Pictured here is Hamelia patens var. glabra.  Planted as a specimen plant, it lives in poor soil along the fenceline.  It does well in the full sun, and un-like the Ixora on the property, there have been very few pest problems.

Know what you are getting:

Because Firebush is one of the best bird and butterfly shrubs in South Florida, you will probably find it in most garden centers.   Plant tags can be confusing when you don’t know the difference.  African firebush, Firefly, Compacta, Dwarf, aren’t they all Firebush?  If you want to be sure you are getting the native, look at the foliage and the blooms.  It’s the easiest way to distinguish the varieties.  The blooms on the native are tubular and they are red or an orange to red color.  Non-native blooms may be tubular (like above) but the they have a lot of yellow in them.  The folige on the native has a lanceolate shape and have little hairs, you should see a tinge of red.  The non-native has foliage that is essentially smooth and green.

Variety does matter: 

Natives for Your Neighborhood states that the non-native African Firebush is beginning to naturalize in South Florida and poses a hybridization threat to our native variety.  Make the decision to not settle for any variety on the nursery shelf.  Find out where the nearest native nursery is and support them.

For a more thorough explanation of the varieties out there, The Florida Association of Native Nurseries has a wonderful post:  The Hamelia Mess .

¹ Hamelia patens

USDA hardiness zones: 9 through 11

Height: 6 to 12 feet

Spread: 5 to 8 feet

Plant habit: spreading

Plant density: dense

Growth rate: fast

Leaf color: green

Fall color: red

Fall characteristic: showy

Flower color: orange-red

Flower characteristic: year-round flowering

Fruit shape: oval

Fruit color: black

Fruit characteristic: suited for human consumption; attracts birds

Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun; plant grows in the shade

Soil tolerances: occasionally wet; acidic; alkaline; sand; loam; clay;

Drought tolerance: moderate

Soil salt tolerances: poor

Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches

Winter interest: plant has winter interest due to unusual form, nice persistent fruits, showy winter trunk, or winter flowers

Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more

Invasive potential: not known to be invasive

Pest resistance: no serious pests are normally seen on the plant

¹EDIS.IFAS.UFL.EDU:  Hamelia patens / Firebush /Scarlet Bush

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