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Scientific: Hamelia patens (Synonym: Hamelia erecta)
Common: fire bush, scarlet bush, hummingbird bush, firecracker bush
Family: Rubiaceae
Origin: Florida in the southern United States south through central America all the way to Argentina.

Pronounciation: Ha-MEL-ee-a PA-tens

Hardiness zones
12-24 (grown as a summer annual in colder climates)
USDA 8-11

Landscape Use: In Phoenix, fire bush is used almost exclusively as a flowering accent shrub for oasis and mesic plantings.

Form & Character: Rounded, tender, upright, cheerful, festive, tropical.

Growth Habit: In Phoenix, fire bush is an semi-evergreen, mostly herbaceous perennial that is moderately upright and spreading, 3- to 5-feet tall with equal spread. In more tropical climates like Costa Rica, fire bush grows large into a "fire tree".

Foliage/Texture: Whorled foliage is elliptic to oval, about 6-inches long. Abaxial leaf surfaces (underneath) are gray-pubescent, leaf venation and petioloes are reddish, foliage turns nearly completely reddish purple during winter; medium texture.

Flowers & Fruits: Flowers arrayed in terminal clusters called cymes, mostly showy orange to scarlet or crimson, collora tubular, elongated; fruits are black and berrylike.

Seasonal Color: Flowers most of the year and reddened foliage during winter.

Temperature: Surprisingly tolerant of Phoenix desert climate conditions (this means it's surprisingly tough)....except for foliar damage during winter freezes and afternoon summer western exposures (re: western summer exposures) where fire bush will 'burn up' under those conditions!

Light: Full sun to partial shade, avoid western exposures and reflected light.

Soil: Tolerant of most desert soils, but prefers a well-drained soil but with moderate to high organic matter content.

Watering: In Phoenix, fire bush requires regular supplemental irrigations especially during the summer months to survive.

Pruning: Lightly head back only occasionally to control size and preserve a natural appearance. Not unexpectantly, the 'Horticultural clods of Phoenix' (aka 'Hort clods') relish the opportunity to shear fire bush into a "firey bowling ball".

Propagation: Softwood stem cuttings, seed.

Disease and Pests: Relatively pest free.

Additional comments: Fire bush is a cheerful, moderate-sized herbaceous landscape shrub that provides floral accent during much of the year and strongly attracts hummingbirds. Firebush growing as a perennial in landscapes in Phoenix always amazes me as I would otherwise think that it would not be able to withstand the intense summer heat of desert Southwest - but alas, it's a tougher plant than one would glean from its delicate appearance. The fruit have a refreshing, acidic taste and are also edible by humans. In Mexico, they are made into a fermented drink and fruit extracts are known to contain several active phytochemicals that have antibacterial and antifungal properties.

There are a myriad of cultivated selctions based on variations in growth habit and flower colors. The cultivars 'Dwarf Red' and 'Compacta' grow to only 3 to 4 feet tall in Phoenix.