Native plants in home landscapes: the Mexico Firebush
The use of native plants in home landscapes are increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons. One major reason is their long established adaptability to the area and the ability to flourish in the environment.
With their origins obscured by the mist of time, the question sometimes arises as to which species were really in Gulf County before people began recording the plant inventory. In some cases there is a debate about certain species since they may have been temporarily overlooked by the initial wave of botanist and plant pathologist centuries ago.
Such is the case with one “Florida native” Hamelia patens which is commonly known locally as Mexican Firebush. The name aside, this species is found in its native range from Florida to Argentina and many places in between.
This plant is a delight to anyone who wishes to add its attractive and consistent orange-red blooms to a landscape during the warm seasons. It is a quick growing soft-stemmed shrub which reaches a height and width of 8 to 12 feet tall without external support.
Typically a one foot tall specimen planted in the spring has the potential to reach five feet or more by the following winter. Specimens can grow to 15 feet tall or more if provided the support of a trellis or other structure.
Its evergreen leaves are covered with red tomentum (hairs) when young and are speckled with red or purple at maturity. Also a distinctive red are the stalk which attaches the leaf to the stem and young stems.
Usually three leaves are arranged in whorls. Bright orange-red flowers project from the forking cluster of blooms at the tips of the branches much of the year in the Port St. Joe vicinity.
The petite, slender flowers are tubular and reach a length of an inch to an inch and a half. While this species is tolerant of shade, flowering is reduced when exposure to the sun is limited.
Birds, especially hummingbirds, are frequent visitor to the Mexican Firebush. Many insect pollinators, including butterflies, are attracted to the nectar available from the numerous bright flowers.
Small rounded glossy black fruits are produced from the blooms. There is a continuous crop of these seedy fruit during the late spring through autumn, and a variety of birds are quite fond of them.
For the home landscaper, the Mexican Firebush can be used as a foundation plant for large structures and is superb when placed in the background of a mass of shrubs in a border to naturalize the setting.
Its dense foliage makes this plant well suited as a screen or establishing a border. A hedge of this shrub will need regular clipping and pruning, with flowers typically removed during this process.
Whether or not it deserves the native classification is because this species is found growing naturally in a variety of situations in the central Florida location of Sumter County and points south. Either way, it grows well in well in Gulf County.
For the homeowner with less than encyclopedic horticultural knowledge, it is important to know this showy perennial really is a native.
To learn more about Mexican Firebush in Port St. Joe and other north Florida locations, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: Outdoorauthor.com.