Vermillionaire® large firecracker plant (Cuphea hybrid). Photo by Proven Winners.

Are you tired of planting the same humdrum mix of annuals in your garden beds and containers year after year? If so, Cuphea is just what you need to break out of your rut and rev up your summer color palette.

Cuphea is gaining widespread appeal because of its outrageous array of flower colors and profiles. Although the flowers are small, they are abundant, and their vivid colors and sweet nectar make them absolutely irresistible to hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Cuphea loves summer sun and heat, and when grown as an annual, it will bloom nonstop until the first frost. If you live in a frost-free climate, you can also grow it as an evergreen perennial. In recent years, breeders have introduced new cuphea hybrids with showier flowers on more compact plants, giving you even more options and color combinations to choose from.

On this page: Basics | Types | Planting | Care | Cuphea Pictures | Landscaping Ideas

BASICS

Botanical name:

Cuphea (KOO-fee-ah)

Common names:

Firecracker plant, cigar flower, Mexican cigar plant, bat flower, bunny ears, false heather

Plant type:

Tender perennial, grown as an annual in most climates.

Zone:

8-11

Height/spread:

1 to 3 feet

Bloom time:

Late spring until frost

Light preference:

Full sun

Flower colors and characteristics:

Both sides of the color wheel are represented, from warm and spicy reds and oranges to cool pink, lavender, and purple tones. Cultivars with pure white blooms are also available. The blooms are typically tubular in shape, but some sport ear-shaped petals that give them the whimsical appearance of tiny mice, bats, or bunnies.

Foliage:

Bright green to blue-green, typically glossy and oblong

Special features:

  • Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies
  • Heat and drought tolerant
  • Needs no deadheading
  • Pest and disease resistant

TYPES OF CUPHEA

There are more than 250 species of Cuphea, most of them native to Mexico and Central and South America. However, only a handful are cultivated for ornamental use. The following types are among the most popular and are usually available at local nurseries or by mail-order, either as seeds or potted plants.

  • Firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea)
  • Bat-faced cuphea (Cuphea llavea)
  • Mexican or false heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)
  • Candy corn plant (Cuphea micropetala)
  • Cuphea hybrids

PLANTING

Where to plant:

In full sun or part shade in compost-rich, well-drained soil. Where summers are hot and dry, cupheas benefit from a bit of shade.

When to plant:

In late spring, after all danger of frost has passed.

Growing from seed:

You can sow seeds directly in the garden after the soil has warmed in the spring or start seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost. Seeds need light for germination, so don’t cover them up with soil; just press them lightly into the surface. Keep the soil moist until germination occurs, usually within 8 to 10 days.

Although cupheas are easy to start from seed, the seeds won’t germinate outdoors in temperatures below 70° F. Unless you live in a temperate climate, you’ll have better results purchasing container-grown plants or starting seeds indoors.

CARE

Watering:

Water regularly until plants become well established, keeping the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Once they take root, plants can tolerate drier growing conditions.

Fertilizing:

To keep your cuphea plants flowering vigorously all season, fertilize them regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer, or once in the spring with a slow-release granular fertilizer. Potted plants may need more frequent applications.

Pruning and deadheading:

Cupheas are self-cleaning, so no deadheading is needed to ensure continuous flower production. If you want to make your plants bushier and more compact, you can prune or pinch them back in late spring to encourage more branching and, in turn, more flowers.

Common pests and problems:

Although cupheas are generally pest resistant, they may occasionally be bothered by Japanese beetles, whiteflies, and aphids.

CUPHEA PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Proven Winners

Vermillionaire® Large Firecracker PlantBuy now from Proven Winners
Cuphea ignea hybrid

Height:

18 to 28 inches

Spread:

12 to 24 inches

Similar to ‘David Verity’ but with some notable enhancements, including larger, more abundant reddish-orange flowers and a tidier, mounded habit, making it a great addition to containers.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

'Flamenco Samba'Buy now from Proven Winners
Cuphea llavea

Height:

8 to16 inches

Spread:

12 to 18 Inches

This show-stopping bat-faced cuphea features large flowers with dark purple centers and frilly scarlet-red petals that look like enormous bat ears. Vigorous and well-branched, with great heat tolerance and a sprawling growth habit. Also try Tiny Mice® (C. llavea), a slightly smaller plant (about a foot high and wide) with tiny red-eared blooms.

Photo by: yakonstant / Shutterstock.

'David Verity'
Cuphea ignea hybrid

Height/spread:

2 to 3 feet (4 to 5 feet in climates where it is winter hardy)

Hummingbirds flock in droves to the tubular, fiery orange blooms of this showy cultivar, which is also called cigar flower because of the slightly flared, yellow tips that resemble a lit cigar. Prominent purple filaments and reddish stems complement the brightly colored flowers. Create a beautiful oasis for hummingbirds by growing ‘David Verity’ with some of their other favorite nectar sources, such salvia, agastache, and crocosmia.

Photo by All-America Selections.

FloriGlory® Diana
Cuphea hyssopifolia

Height:

10 to 12 inches

Spread:

15 to 18 inches

Boasting five times the flower power of traditional Mexican heathers, this 2018 All-America Selections winner, bred by Westhoff, is covered in intensely colored magenta blooms from spring well into fall. Although not actually a member of the heather family, it bears a close resemblance, with its finely textured, glossy green leaves and rosy pink flowers. Other colors in the FloriGlory® series include white and lavender. Plant a mixture of all three hues in a pot or hanging basket for a knockout container arrangement.

Photo by Rock Giguere / Millette Photomedia.

Sriracha™ Violet
Cuphea llavea

Height:

14 to 18 inches

Spread:

12 to 14 inches

Bring on the heat! The aptly named Sriracha™ series of cupheas produce a profusion of vibrantly colored blooms throughout the dog days of summer on compact plants under 2 feet tall. Sriracha™ Violet features dazzling flowers. Other hues in the series include pink and rose. The container-friendly size is just right for adding bright pops of color to patios, balconies, and smaller gardens.

LANDSCAPING IDEAS

If you love warm, citrusy colors, try Vermillionaire® in this container recipe from Proven Winners, along with Superbells® Dreamsicle® and Superbells® Double Amber calibrachoas.

There are many ways to include cuphea in your garden, here are a few suggestions:

  • As an annual in garden beds and borders.
  • In mixed containers with other sun-loving annuals or perennials.
  • As an evergreen shrub (in warmer climates).
  • A good addition to a pollinator garden or hummingbird haven. (See more plants that attract hummingbirds.)
  • In colder climates, potted cuphea can be moved indoors in the fall and grown in a warm, sunny location as a houseplant.

RELATED:
Annual Flowers
How to Grow Calibrachoa

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