If you want to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard, there are few better choices than these three bushes with fire in their names.
The fire bush (Hamelia patens) is a native shrub, though there is a non-native fire bush that looks very similar and is equally appealing to wildlife. It blooms nearly year-round, grows fast, and features clusters of tubular flowers in red, orange and yellow. Hummers, which tend to be attracted to tubular flowers in “hot” colors, love them. So do butterflies, especially the state butterfly, the zebra longwing. Birds dine on the black berries that follow the flowers. It’s a virtual smorgasbord for wildlife.
As long as you plant it in a place where it can grow and spread out — it can reach 15 feet tall and equally wide — it is carefree. If you plant it too close to other shrubs, it may need some pruning. I do have one that has almost completely covered a smaller neighboring shrub.
Occasionally I will find some webs on the ends of the branches, but I either cut them off or ignore them. It bounces back well from cold weather.
The fire bush vies with the jatropha bush for the best bet for year-round color and seasonal butterfly activity in South Florida.
The firespike (Odontonema strictum) is probably one of the very favorite hummingbird stopping places in South Florida. There are also pink and purple versions, though harder to find and not as frequently seen in gardens. The more common red firespikes bloom during warm weather, the other colors during cooler weather.
I have had mixed luck with my red firespikes. A few of them were so badly bent and twisted by Wilma that I eventually removed them. I lost parts of one mature bush after last winter’s cold spell, but some of the plant survived and it appears to be coming back. They can be propagated easily from cuttings.
Pamela Crawford, in her book “Easy Gardens for South Florida,” recommends cutting the red firespikes back hard every year around February when they generally stop flowering. I have not bothered to do it.
The firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis) is also sometimes called the coral plant.
The firecracker plant has bright orangish red tubular flowers on thin stems that grow up straight and then bend over and arch in a graceful red and green shower. You can also find them in white. Like the other “fire” plants, they attract butterflies and hummers.
In some parts of the country they are popular as container plants, but here, they are most often grown in the ground, where they can spread out rather vigorously.
I have a curving coconut tree with a lot of the roots showing, and I planted a small red firecracker in a one-gallon pot to mask them. It is now three feet high, with some stems that reach more than five feet before they start to cascade. It is probably five or six feet wide. It blooms almost continuously here, though it may slow down during very cool periods.
It looks spectacular, and my only complaint is that it is very hard to get at the weeds that pop up in the midst of all those slender stems. Like the others, it does best in full sun, but tolerates some light shade.