How to Grow and Care for Firebush (Hamelia patens)

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The firebush or Hamelia patens is a perennial shrub that is native to Florida and to other regions in both the Tropics and the Subtropics of America. As well as firebush, this plant is also commonly referred to as hummingbird bush, scarlet bush, and redhead. 

This perennial plant can grow as a shrub or small tree and can grow 3 feet (1  m) or more in a growing season.   


The genus Hamelia comprising about 40 species, was classified in honor of an 18th-century French botanist.   

Plant Facts

Scientific nameHamelia patens
Common namesFirebush, Scarlet bush
Height8 to 12 feet (3.66 m)
Width8 to 12 feet (3.66 m)
USDA Plant Hardiness ZoneZones 9 to 11
Native toFlorida
Blooming seasonYear-long
Flower colorsorange-red
Plant specific featuresEvergreen foliage, year-round flowering

How to Plant and Grow a Firebush

Where to Plant

Hamelia patens grow naturally in a variety of conditions in its native regions; however, for best results, avoid planting where it would be exposed to strong winds. Strong wind can burn the foliage, however, the firebush will tolerate both direct heat and drought. 

Both birds and insects will be attracted to the firebush nectar. Once the flowers fade, they produce round glossy fruits continuously throughout the year and this also encourages birds to the garden, as they will eat the fruit. 

Although Hamelia patens is not a plant to choose if you have a coastal garden (it has poor to low salt tolerance), it grows well amongst other plants in a mass planting scheme.

You can also choose firebush as a specimen plant, or as a hedge or background plant in a border.

When to Plant

The best time for planting a firebush shrub is in the late Spring or early Summer. If growing in USDA zones 8 to 11, make sure that the soil is not waterlogged when planting.

Firebush Care and Maintenance


In its natural state, firebush will tolerate different soil conditions. It will tolerate soils that are alkaline (with a high pH value). Similarly, hamelia patens will thrive in acidic, clay, or sandy soil. 

It will tolerate occasional periods of wet soil, but should not be left standing in water for extended periods. 


Firebush, once established, has moderate tolerance to drought. However, it does best when regularly irrigated and provided with supplementary watering. 

It is important that a newly planted firebush is watered thoroughly and frequently, in order to allow its roots to establish in the ground. 


Although it doesn’t need much feeding, a small application of fertilizer in the Spring will produce more flowers and larger blooms throughout the year.


Firebush will grow in part shade, part sun or even in the shade. However, it will perform best when planted in a position that receives some sunlight and some protection from excess sun.

Pruning and Repotting

If you are growing the firebush shrub as a hedging plant, in order to keep the plants contained, regular clipping will be required. 

With its dense foliage, and spreading habit, it makes an excellent plant for an evergreen screen provided you control its growth accordingly.

Unfortunately, when you clip the shrub you are likely to also remove the flower buds, so flowering will be reduced.

Firebush grows rapidly (up to 4 feet in a growing season), so pruning will be needed if you wish to control the height and spread of the plant. 


Firebush is extremely easy to propagate and there are many methods to select from if you wish to multiply your plants. 

Root division is an easy and effective method to select to propagate firesbush shrubs. The plant commonly produces suckers from the roots, and these can be dug up and replanted with roots already attached.  

Layering is another option. If your shrub has low-growing branches, you can peg these down, into the soil, and they will root naturally. Once rooted, you can dig them up and transplant them. 

Stem cuttings are probably the most commonly used method to multiply firebush perennials. The best time to take cuttings from pieces of the stem is during the Summer. Select mature wood that is from the current season’s growth, but before it has turned woody. 

A semi-ripe or semi-hardwood cutting is what this is. If you use hormone rooting powder, this will encourage faster rooting but is not essential. 

You can also propagate Hamelia patens from seed, but the seeds do not germinate if they are not fresh. 

Pests and diseases

Hamelia patens is an easy-to-grow plant and is not seriously troubled by pests and disease. Occasionally, aphids, mites, or scale insects might attack the firebush, but these can be controlled easily if necessary. 

Usually, however, treatment isn’t necessary as natural predators are likely to check the infestation.

Temperature and Humidity

The firebush is a perennial that will tolerate heat but it isn’t very hardy in cold spells. It is quite likely that the top growth will die back to the ground during a heavy frost. 

This will not kill the roots though, and vigorous regrowth will be fast as soon as the temperatures start to rise. 

Other Uses for Firebush

The firebush fruits are edible and birds like them because they are produced all year long. There are reports of medicinal use of these fruits, used to treat skin problems. 

Crushed leaves were used for cuts and bruises on the skin and sometimes mixed with vinegar. 

In native regions, firebush is also reputed for the herbal qualities of its fruits. It was used to make a drink and also its stems and leaves for tanning. 

Types of Firebush You Can Grow

Cultivars exist.  Whilst Hamelia patens is a relatively large shrub, cultivars such as “Compacta” and “Dwarf” are considerably smaller. 

Dwarf firebush (Hamelia patens var. glabra) as well as being a smaller plant overall, also produces flowers that are lighter in color, and the leaves are smooth. 

This is not a native shrub. Similarly, H. patens “Firefly” is another compact cultivar that has foliage and flowers that are much smaller. 


Firebush is a delightful shrub that produces long-lasting red or orange-red flowers. With evergreen leaves and a fast-growing habit, it is a great addition to any garden.

*image by Banonili/depositphotos

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