In the Garden:
Lower South
May, 2007
Regional Report

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A hummingbird hones in on the blooms of Cuphea 'David Verity', one of its favorite sources of nectar.

Cupheas Shine in Southern Heat

When summer sun starts to direct its blazing fury down on our gardens, many of our spring-flowering plants begin to bow beneath the blistering combination of heat and humidity. Garden color becomes harder to come by as the sea of green and varying shades of tan and tawny take center stage.

Cupheas are one great answer to the sun's challenge. There are a number of outstanding Cuphea species and varieties to keep the color coming on through summer and into fall. These plants are able to take heat and humidity in stride if provided with adequate soil moisture and good drainage. They love a full-sun exposure but will tolerate a little shade. Many work well in containers, which adds to their versatility. Some are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies, another point in their favor.

Here are three of my favorite Cupheas for the southern garden:

Firecracker Plant or Cigar Flower (Cuphea ignea)
Need a plant that will blaze right through summer like a Fourth of July firecracker? Cuphea ignea goes by the common name "firecracker plant" or "cigar flower." Its fiery, bright reddish orange 1-inch tubular blooms are a magnet for hummingbirds and several types of butterflies. Give this Cuphea lots of sun and moderate soil moisture for best results.

When the first freeze burns the foliage back, cut the plants down to a couple of inches high and mulch them well to protect the base and roots over the winter season. The cultivar 'David Verity' is preferred by many gardeners for its dense habit and prolific blooms on 2- to 3-foot plants.

Batface Cuphea (Cuphea llavea)
Batface cuphea is a drought-tolerant annual or tender perennial that loves a sunny exposure. It has a somewhat prostrate growth habit, reaching a little over a foot high and 2 to 3 feet in width, depending on growing conditions. Batface cuphea is well suited for a landscape bed, hanging basket, or container. It blooms from spring to frost, bearing a profusion of small, tubular, red blossoms with a purple center that resemble a bat's face.

The exciting new Flamenco series is more compact with larger blooms. 'Tango' bears large, bright pink flowers with a purple/mauve throat -- very eye-catching. The large, vivid, coral-red blooms of 'Rumba' are equally stunning. These Cupheas do well with minimal care and are not prone to insect or disease problems.

Giant Cigar Plant (Cuphea micropetala)
Giant cigar plant or candy corn plant is a late summer to fall bloomer. Blooms emerge yellow on the terminal foot of long upright shoots. The 2-inch-long, tubular flowers turn orange-red. Hummingbirds and butterflies can't resist the brightly colored blooms. Plants reach 3 to 4 foot in height and width. This Cuphea is not prone to insect or disease problems but does best with moderately moist soil conditions.


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