• December 7, 2016

Firespike blossoms bringing in butterflies and hummingbirds

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Saturday, October 5, 2013 4:30 am

A plant known as a firespike or scarlet flame should tell you immediately this is special. And if you are an adventurous gardener, right now they are showing out in your landscape and attracting both hummingbirds and butterflies. They are indeed among the best for the backyard nature habitat.

The firespike is known botanically as Odontonema strictum and is native to Central America. It is in the acanthus family, which offers many of our finest landscape flowers and foliage such as the Brazilian plume flower, yellow shrimp plant and sanchezia. The list is long and the firespike is among the best.

Though it is a tropical, and will remain evergreen in zones 10 and higher, gardeners in zones 8 and 9 will find them returning from the ground after typical winters. And in zone 7, a protective layer of mulch and a southern exposure may entice a spring return. Even in northern zones it is worthy as an annual, and propagates with ease giving you the opportunity to have small but manageable plants to overwinter indoors.

You will be thrilled with the large dark green glossy succulent-like leaves and fiery red tubular blossoms borne on spikey panicles reaching up to 12 inches in length. At the Coastal Botanical Garden in Savannah, Ga., ours are pushing 5 feet tall and, like many other flowers in the family, seem to be the perfect treat for hummingbirds and a host of butterflies — including yellow sulphurs. The sulphurs help create a special pizzazz and color partnership. In colder zones they will be 24 to 36 inches tall. Know that from late summer through frost these will be among the showiest plants in the garden.

I love them when grown in high shifting light where they are tolerating shade one minute and then the next sunlight is hitting their blossoms with what many consider the showiest red available for the garden. They perform well in full sun but it is the part-shade gardens where I become mesmerized by their beauty.

The firespike thrives in well-drained, fertile organic-rich soil. Space your plants 2 to 3 feet apart. Though they can tolerate a little dryness or drought, you will like the look and lushness of the plant better if you give it a little supplemental water. The plant spreads underground but not invasively — just the right amount — giving you a nice manageable clump.

Those wanting to create their corner of paradise will want to partner it with the cold-hardy Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo), the tough-but-fragrant butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) and some extra coarse or bold leaf texture from the Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) or elephant ear. It also looks exceptional grown in front of the white picket fence for a Caribbean Cottage like you might find on the island of Saba or St. Barts.

In the warmest regions you can plant them now but in colder areas you will want to be searching out your sources for spring planting. Some gardeners are a little timid when it comes to growing tropical, but once you see the beauty of the blossoms, butterflies and hummingbirds you will be glad you did.

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.

Entertainment Events

  • MLK Battle Of The Bands Competition Houston-2017

    • Sun, Jan 15, 4:00 pm CST
    • W.W. Thorne Stadium, Houston

    The MLK Battle Of The Bands Competition-Houston Is One Of The Larger High School Marching Band Competitions In the U.S. Featuring 16 Nationall…

  • MLK Youth Parade-2017

    • Sat, Jan 14, 12:00 pm CST
    • Midtown Houston, Houston

    The MLK Youth Parade Will Kick-Off The 2017 MLK Holiday Weekend. The Parade Will Be Held On January 14, 2017 In Houston's Midtown Originating …

  • MLK Grande Parade-2017

    • Mon, Jan 16, 10:00 am CST
    • Midtown Houston, Houston

    The MLK Grande parade Is One Of the Largest Single Day Multicultural Events In The U.S. That commemorate The MLK National Holiday Observance. …