Occasionally, I will get the urge to obsess over a group of plants. I have gone mad for Magnolias, frenetic for Fothergilla, hysterical for Hydrangea, but now I am going crazy for a rediscovered genus. That genus is Cuphea or cigar flower (get it? on fire for Cuphea).
Cuphea takes me back to my college days and plant identification class. We had to learn two different Cuphea: C. hyssopifolia and C. ignea or Mexican heather and cigar flower, respectively. Cuphea hyssopifolia was marginally hardy where I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and in mild winters, it would sometimes come back from the roots. I always thought they were cute but not show-stopping plants. A couple of years later, during a summer internship at Walt Disney World, I got to see Mexican heather growing in its full glory in Orlando. Over the 20 years since that summer internship, Cuphea and I would occasionally cross paths but never engaging in a deep conversation.
This year, I am starting to develop a Cuphea crush. The warm weather we have been having in New England has made our plants ignite. We are growing Cuphea llavea and C. micropetala. C. llavea is a small, mounding plant covered with small flowers that have a deep purple center and red tips to the petals. The bi-color effect is what gives it the common name of “bat-faced cuphea.” Cuphea micropetala is turning into more of a small shrub with erect flower stems producing yellow and orange flowers.
I am just starting to do some more research on the genus and see that there are 260 different species, all native to the Americas. Next year, I cannot wait to try as many Cuphea as we can find. Some of these newer plants are truly show stoppers with guests in the gardens asking “what is that plant?” Are there any Cuphea that you recommend I trial next year in our gardens?
Images: Rodney Eason
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