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Firebush Hamelia patens var. patens
Copyright by: George D. Gann
General Landscape Uses:
A versatile and attractive accent or specimen used in formal and informal landscapes. It can be used as an accent, and in naturalistic landscapes. It also makes a great addition to mixed buffer plantings. Learn more about gardening with Firebush for birds and other wildlife in Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens.
Ecological Restoration Notes: Widespread but rarely abundant in tree fall gaps and along the edges of hammocks. Perhpaps overused in ecological restoration plantings.
Description: Large shrub or small tree with rounded crown from weak, easily broken branches, usually on multiple trunks. Bark dark brown. Leaves light to dark green with reddish blotches and veins, 2-6 inches long.
Dimensions: About 10-12 feet in height, or sometimes more. Often as broad as tall.
Growth Rate: Fast.
Monroe County Keys north to southern Volusia, southern Marion and Pasco counties, and naturalizing from cultivated plants in the Florida Panhandle (see Anderson 24304 FSU); Bermuda, West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America. Rare in the Monroe County Keys and very rare or absent in the middle Keys. For a digitized image of Elbert Little's Florida range map, visit the Exploring Florida website.
Soils: Moist, well-drained sandy or limestone soils, with humusy top layer.
Nutritional Requirements: Moderate; can grow in nutrient poor soils, but needs some organic content to thrive.
Salt Water Tolerance: Low; does not tolerate lonog-term flooding by salt or brackish water.
Salt Wind Tolerance: Moderate; grows near salt water, but is protected from direct salt spray by other vegetation.
Drought Tolerance: Moderate to high; plants growing in extremely dry soils may die during extended periods of drought.
Light Requirements: Full sun.
Flower Color: Red to reddish-orange.
Flower Characteristics: Showy tubular flowers, about 1" long, in terminal and axillary clusters.
Flowering Season: All year.
Fruit: Rounded red to purplish-black juicy berries.
Wildlife and Ecology: Provides significant food and cover for wildlife. Larval host plant for the pluto sphinx (Xylophanes pluto) moth. Nectar plant for black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), statira sulphur (Phoebis statira) and many other butterflies. Attracts bees and other insect pollinators. A small, iridescent-green halictid bee (Augochlora pura) is one of the more effective pollinators. Birds, including mockingbirds, catbirds, vireos, and warblers, eat the fruits or prey on the many insects and spiders that make this shrub their home. Hummingbirds feed on the flower nectar.
Horticultural Notes: Can be grown from de-pulped seed and from cuttings.
Comments: Firebush is one of the best bird and butterfly shrubs in South Florida. It recruits readily from seed in the garden but is not a pest. An exotic relative, H. patens var. glabra, with yellowish-red flowers and mostly hairless leaves, is commonly sold is South Florida. It is beginning to naturalize and poses a hybridization threat to our native firebush. For a review of "The Hamelia Mess" by Roger Hammer, visit the Florida Association of Native Nurseries website.