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Publication #FPS-237

Hamelia patens Firebush, Scarlet Bush1

Edward F. Gilman, Alan Meerow2

Introduction

This charming Florida native will delight everyone with beautiful orange-red flowers throughout most of the year (Fig. 1). Firebush is a large, soft-stemmed shrub that reaches a height and width of 8- to 12-feet-tall without support. A one foot tall specimen that is planted in the spring can be expected to reach 5 feet or more by the following winter. It can grow to 15-feet-tall or more if given support on 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. The petiole and young stems also appear red. These attractive leaves are commonly arranged in whorls of 3. Bright orange-red flowers appear in forking cymes at the tips of the branches throughout the year. The slender flowers are tubular and reach a length of 1 to 1 ½ inches. Although tolerant of shade, flowering is much reduced.

General Information

Figure 1. 

Firebush.


Credit:

CC BY 3.0 Forest & Kim Starr (http://www.starrenvironmental.com/)


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]
Scientific name: Hamelia patens
Pronunciation: huh-MEE-lee-uh PAY-tenz
Common name(s): Firebush, Scarletbush
Family: Rubiaceae
Plant type: shrub
USDA hardiness zones: 9 through 11 (Fig. 2)
Figure 2. 

Shaded area represents potential planting range.


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Planting month for zone 9: Apr; May; Jun; Jul; Aug; Sep
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: Feb; Mar; Apr; May; Jun; Jul; Aug; Sep; Oct; Nov; Dec
Origin: native to Florida
Uses: specimen; accent; screen; border; mass planting; attracts butterflies; attracts hummingbirds

Description

Height: 6 to 12 feet
Spread: 5 to 8 feet
Plant habit: spreading
Plant density: dense
Growth rate: fast
Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: whorled
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: undulate
Leaf shape: ovate
Leaf venation: brachidodrome; pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: red
Fall characteristic: showy

Figure 3. 

Foliage of Firebush


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Flower

Flower color: orange-red
Flower characteristic: year-round flowering

Figure 4. 

Flower


Credit:

© Mark W. Skinner. United States, FL, Miami-Dade Co., Miami, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. July 4, 1982. Used with permission.


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Fruit

Fruit shape: oval
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit cover: fleshy
Fruit color: black
Fruit characteristic: suited for human consumption; attracts birds

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems; not particularly showy
Current year stem/twig color: reddish
Current year stem/twig thickness: medium

Culture

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

Other

Roots: usually not a problem
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

Use and Management

Hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy the nectar in the flowers. The small, black, glossy fruits are rounded and can be eaten. There is a continuous crop of these seedy fruits and birds are quite fond of them. The sap has been used to treat skin rashes. The Firebush can be used as a foundation plant for large buildings and is superb when placed in the background of a mass of shrubs in a border. It is excellent in a mass planting and functions well as a screen or border. A hedge of Firebush will need regular clipping. Flowers are often removed during this process.
Hamelia patens can be found growing naturally in a variety of situations in Florida from Sumter County southward. However, it grows best when well supplied with moisture and prefers a full sun to partial shade location in the landscape. This plant can take heat and drought, but a strong wind can cause some leaf browning. Though native, it is quite tender, and can be killed to the ground during a freeze. Regrowth from the roots is rapid and rampant and it has proven to be root hardy through zone 9. It functions very well as an annual in more northerly zones. The Firebush is known to be tolerant of the lime bearing (high soil pH) soils of southern Florida. Fertilize this plant sparingly to bring out its best characteristics, and do not allow lawn grasses to invade its root zone.

Propagate Hamelia patens by seed (which must be fresh), cuttings or air-layers.

Pest and Diseases

Occasional attacks of scales or mites may require control measures. New growth may be attacked by aphids in early spring, but natural predators often rapidly check the invasion. In south Florida, larvae of a moth species sometimes partially defoliates the stems, but they are easily controlled if you wish.

Figure 3. 

Foliage of Firebush


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Footnotes

1.

This document is FPS-237, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date October 1999. Revised May 2007. Reviewed June 2011. Photos added July 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, Professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, Alan Meerow, former associate professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, Ft. Lauderdale REC, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.