Firebush

Firebush
Hamelia patens

These coffee relatives have red tubular flowers for all but the coldest months and berries that go from yellow, to orange, to red and finally black in late summer and most of the winter.

It is naturally found in coastal and inland hammocks and prefers rich soils with organic matter and low levels of wind. Hummingbirds and butterflies visit the flowers and many birds including the cedar waxwings and catbirds eat the fruit.

The berries are edible yet not very tasty and the nectar is sweet when sucked from the flower. To maintain at a low height, simply cut back to between ground level and two feet once a year. If not trimmed, it becomes a 15 foot shrub which can be limbed up to produce thick vertical branches for birds to hide in. Place a birdbath and feeder nearby.

The non native Hamelia patens variety glabra, sold as "compacta," "African" or Dwarf Firebush from Central America is now what you will find sold as the native firebush in most garden centers. The leaves lack the slight hairiness of the native and feel like rubber. If the leaves grow off the stem in groups of three or four, it is native and if there are four or five in a whorl, it is the non native.

It may seem silly to worry about this but the non native hybridizes with the native. We could loose our native plant to the rapidly escaping hybrids.

Firebush