Cuphea ignea, the cigar or firecracker plant, originates in Mexico, where it becomes a 2′-3′ tall shrub in warm, sunny spots. In my garden, it dies to the ground each year, reliably appearing late in the spring as temperatures become increasingly warmer. We are probably close to its farthest northern hardiness, so I mulch it well each fall. Even so, I thought for sure it and my other cuphea, C. micropetala, would be goners after this past ridiculously cold winter. But, surprisingly (At least to me!), they are back as happy as ever. And that makes me happy too!
The best part of having these in the sunny garden, though, is the abundance of hummingbirds and butterflies they attract. The sunniest, most protected areas in my garden happen to be practically right outside the front door. What an advantageous site to watch the hummers dart back and forth from salvia to cuphea and back again.
The Latin word ignea means fire, and the tubular flowers do resemble (sort of) the ends of a lit cigar. But it’s the tubular shape of the flowers and the orangey-red color that attracts all the hummingbirds. Cuphea ignea (and micropetala) are fast growers once heat sets in for the duration of summer. This year I didn’t pinch them back at all to control their height. Since they’d managed to make it through this particularly hard winter, I thought they deserved to be left to grow without any interference; and they’re blooming earlier than normal because of it.
I will cut it back some if it gets too “leggy” looking in my front bed. You can alleviate this problem by placing it behind mid-height annuals like angelonia, some salvias, gomphrena, or even foliage plants like sun caladiums or coleus. So, get out in your garden and scout out a place that’s sunny, protected and within easy sight lines and try at least one cuphea so you can watch the hummers zinging by too. You won’t be sorry!
If you want a cigar plant for your garden and hummingbirds, we’ll carry it as long as it’s available this summer from our local grower.
By Kris Blevons