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Firespike – red or purple – a great winter bloomer!

By Ralph E. Mitchell

I recently visited the Naples Botanical Garden and was overwhelmed by the beauty and the splendor of the plantings – my first visit!  Of all the plants I could have focused on, the firespike collection was very attention-getting.  Not only was it colorful as a mass planting, but it reminded me that this evergreen semi-woody shrub/ tender perennial can do as well in Charlotte County (and other parts of Florida) as it can in slightly warmer Naples.

Interestingly, firespike has naturalized in some areas of Florida, but it is not considered an invasive plant.  Ata glance, firespike, a plant originally from Central America,  may remind you of a salvia with its colorful flower spike.  Growing to about four-feet tall, this  upright perennial has large dark green leaves about seven inches long.  The red or purple flowers are tubular in shape and are clustered on narrow spikes.  Fall and winter are the normal blooming periods which provides some color when many flowering plants are out of bloom.  These flowers are particularly favored by hungry butterflies and hummingbirds, so plan accordingly and expect these garden visitors.

Firespike is moderately drought tolerant once established.  Perhaps the best way to display this plant is in mass plantings where plants are spaced about two-feet apart.  While preferring full sun conditions for best blooms, firespikes will flower well even in partially shaded conditions.  In addition to mass planting, firespikes are noted as making exceptional fresh-cut flowers for arrangements.  Hardy from zone 8b to 11, winter frosts and freezes can cause some damage to firespikes.  However, this natural pruning helps keep this large clumping perennial in-bounds and under control.  In the spring, you can clean the clump up by pruning it to the ground.

Easy to propagate, increase firespike plants with divisions or from cuttings.  This is another pass-along plant to share with neighbors and friends.  While I find the red firespike eye-catching, the purple version is an interesting twist

that really pops in the landscape! For more information on seasonal color in the landscape from plants such as firespikes, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.     Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Gilman, E. F. & Delvalle, T. (2014) Odontonema strictum Firespike.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Dunning, S. (2018) Firespike: A Tender Perennial.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Northwest District
Firespike (2019) Gardening Solutions. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

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