I am always impressed when an old familiar landscape plant comes in a new form or cultivar. The firebush is an example of a shrub that can be depended on in the landscape; noted for its durable nature and attractiveness. Firebush or Hamelia patens is a versatile shrub found in both local residential and commercial landscapes for a good reason – attractive foliage, readily available at all garden centers, colorful flowers, butterfly attracter and all-around sustainable plant – native to boot! Add in a fancy attractive cultivar of firebush such as Lime Sizzler™, and you have my attention!
Before we get to Lime Sizzler™, let’s look at what the firebush has to offer the gardener in regard to a sustainable landscape plant. In the search for a native plant that fits every landscape, just about every gardener likes the firebush. Useful as a specimen plant, for mass planting, or as a screen or border planting, the firebush can be expected to grow up to twelve feet tall without pruning. Fast growing, this evergreen shrub has reddish-hued foliage and tubular reddish orange to yellow-orange flowers. I wanted to make a distinction here that there are actually two types of firebush available – a true native firebush (Hamelia patens), and one from Central America (Hamelia patens var. glabra). The difference is that the true native has reddish orange to red flowers and, if you look closely, hairy leaves. There is also a compact cultivar of Hamelia patens named ‘Firefly’ which has leaves and flowers that are half the normal size. Only growing three to five feet, this firebush variety would not require as much pruning to keep it in bounds. The non-native type, which is sometimes called Dwarf Firebush, has yellow-orange flowers and smooth leaves.
Firebush flowers are often visited by any number of pollinating insects ranging from honeybees to butterflies. The zebra longwing and gulf fritillary are notable butterflies commonly seen visiting these flowers – hummingbirds also find the tubular flowers attractive. Besides the flowers and foliage, the firebush produces purplish-black berries that are appreciated by birds. While the firebush can be nipped by frost during the winter, it grows right back without any long-lasting damage. In fact, cool weather tends to increase a scarlet coloration to the leaves.
Another good quality of the firebush is its adaptability to numerous soil conditions. Any full-sun, well-drained landscape soil is fine for firebush. While partial shade can be tolerated, the result will be fewer flowers and noticeably leggy growth. If garden space is limited, the firebush can be grown in a large container as well. In native plant gardens firebush are often installed with American beautyberry and wild coffee for a very nice assortment of color and texture. Plant at least three individual plants about three feet apart for the best display.
All right – we are now ready to talk about Lime Sizzler™ – a patent protected plant whose full name is Hamelia patens ‘Grelmsiz’ Lime Sizzler™. Lime Sizzler™ has the same standard form as the regular firebush, but instead of green leaves, it has yellow to chartreuse foliage often with some light green variegation in the middle. The new growth also has a bit of a reddish hue. The bright leaves almost give the appearance of a larger flower with all red true tubular flowers in the middle. This ornamental enhancement is a real showstopper you will not soon forget.
If you like easy to care for shrubs that thrive in our region, the firebush should be on your list! If you have a firebush already and need to jazz up your plant palette a bit, consider a Lime Sizzler™ in your future! For information on all types of Florida-Friendly Landscape™ plants suitable for Southwest Florida, or to ask a question, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk 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. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or email@example.com, Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2019) Firebush. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. (2014) Hamelia patens, Firebush. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Firefly Firebush (2014) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Baker County.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2022) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.
Hamelia patens ‘Grelmsiz’ LIME SIZZLER. (2023) Missouri Botanical Garden.
Fields, J. S., Kirk-Ballard, H. & Edwards, A. (2019) Louisiana Super Plants – Lime Sizzler Firebush. LSU Ag Center – Extension Service.