What is smaller than a shrub? A shrublet of course! One of my favorite shrublets is called false heather or Cuphea hyssopifolia, a native of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. There is no better small groundcover with very fine leaves and tiny, but distinct flowers in purple, pink or white. Have you seen this mini-shrub or shrublet before?
Only a foot or two in height, and maybe up to three feet wide on a good day, the false heather has very dense growth and a well-rounded shape. The small, lance-shaped leaves fill the branches with numerous flowers emerging at the juncture of leaf and stem. The flowers are purple, pink or white depending on the cultivar and are trumpet-shaped with six petals. Pollinators appreciate these flowers and often visit false heather – bees and butterflies love it! Although most of the flowers occur summer through fall, false heather can have some flowers year-round.
Best in full-sun to part-shade sites, plant false heather at twenty-four-inch intervals if mass-planted. Also consider using Cuphea for planting bed edging and borders. Taking our summer heat extremely well, false heather is drought-tolerant and moderately salt-tolerant. While false heather can sometimes self-seed producing more plants, this perennial subshrub is not a problem species at this time as far as invasiveness is concerned according to the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas.
The cultivar called ‘Allyson’ is a very common compact variety with purple-lavender flowers. One white cultivar to look for is called ‘Alba’ – same plant, just a different color flower. You can also find various shades of pink often under the cultivar simply called ‘Pink’.
The main pest encountered locally that can be a problem is the flea beetle. This tiny metallic or stripped beetle actually hops like a flea and feeds on the leaves. In addition to the adult beetle, you will also notice small larvae feeding on the leaves. While your false heather may never have flea beetles, you should monitor for them regularly to prevent an infestation from building up to damaging levels.
False heather is another Florida-Friendly Landscaping™- approved plant that we would recommend. A small plant, which makes a mighty groundcover, false heather should be in your landscape! For more information on all types of perennials suitable for our area, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/ . Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gilman, E. F. (1999) Cuphea hyssopifolia. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. Cuphea hyssopifolia.
Dave’s Garden (2021) Cuphea Species, Elfin Herb, False Heather, Hawaiian Heather, Mexican Heather. https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/676.
Missouri Botanical Garden (2021) Cuphea hyssopifolia. https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a113 .
North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/cuphea-hyssopifolia/ .
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design. (2010) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Caldwell, D. (2020) Cuphea Chewers! Is your Mexican heather, Cuphea hyssopifolia, shrinking? The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Collier County.