Plant Profile: Firecracker Plant

What more could you ask for in a plant if not for evergreen foliage, drought tolerance and flowers that attract hummingbirds in droves?  Russelia equisetiformis, alternately known as firecracker plant and coral plant, is nearly leafless and bears hanging flowers on wisp like stems, gracefully arching towards the ground.

Firecracker plant cascading over a retaining wall at the UNF campus

Obviously the big selling point on firecracker plant is its long floral display, lasting all year or from spring to frost in colder areas, and attracting lots of hummingbirds.  I love how the flowers seem to dance and vibrate even when still, with all the pendant blooms angled slightly off kilter so they trick your eye into seeing rhythm.

The plant's habit is billowing one, and this is used to great effect when planted on hillsides, behind retaining walls and in large containers or hanging baskets so the feathery stems can drape down in a lush curtain.  This makes it perfect for obscuring eyesores, like a compost heap in my own garden.  On the other side of the heap is a weeping yaupon holly that mirrors the effect of the graceful weeping foliage nicely, so when you approach down the side yard you just see arching foliage. 

Russelia is usually touted as a drought tolerant plant, but I'll also note that my largest plant is located in a wet spot that never quite dries out, by the compost heap.  The crown stays above the waterline, but it still seems pretty well adapted to its soggy situation.

Though usually labeled as a zone 9 plant, I've seen it in masses in Gainesville, Fl (8b) and mine showed hardly any damage in our 20f nights this winter.  I suppose it depends on where you plant it.

Uses and Companion Plantings
Place russelia amongst larger foliage like cannas or alocasia for a bold effect!  It also looks superb when planted adjacent to other flowers that hang downward, such as the (also red) turk's cap hibiscus or maybe some angel's trumpets.  Some other hummingbird attracting plants with red flowers include firespike, coral bean, cuphea, heliconias and bromeliads.

There is also a cream flowered form, pictured to the left.  I never saw the point of it, but I do think the folks at UNF did a great job pairing it with this mosaic column.

You can also mirror both the form and leafless stems of russelia by planting Jerusalem thorn.  This tree is also drought tolerant, and also has an almost leafless weeping habit but bears bright yellow flowers in spring.

They're really easy to grow from cuttings, and you can collect seeds to replant as well. I might have to start a cell pack to increase my collection soon, but they're so affordable and readily available that you might as well just go to Home Depot and pick some up!  Here's Riverview Flower Farm's profile of the plant, along with some other excellent hummingbird plants.

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  1. I agree with you Steve - a great easy-care plant.

  2. I certainly love mine. We have 2 large oaks in the back behind the lanai. A 2 foot high wall surrounded the area on one side. When we bought, the entire area around the oaks had ferns. We constantly heard the pitter patter of little critter's feet. We removed the fern. I immediately bought 2 small firecrackers. I could just see the firecrackers hanging over the wall. Now it looks just like I envisioned it. Several times it has rooted where branches touch the ground. I think I have 4 or 5 small firecrackers from the original plants.

    Also, the winter last year did not even bother it. It is really a care-free plant.

  3. I LOVE this plant, and have both colors. I'm going to pot up some of the red, to plant in our secret garden to see if I can get some hummingbird pictures there.

    Thanks for the info on this plant. This plant also propagates by the ends of the plants rooting wherever they happen to hit the ground. That's how mine have spread.

    Have a nice Sunday and a great week.


  4. This is a beautiful plant. Thanks for the info on how to take care of it and especially how to stage it in the garden.

  5. I love this plant. I don't know whether it will die during frost.

  6. I love firecracker! I think it's especially pretty cascading down a garden wall. Hmmmm.... Don't know why this plant is absent from my garden....

  7. I need to grow this. It's a common South Florida plant, but it always looks so ragged to me. Perhaps because it's never displayed well. Hmmm.


  8. Great post with lots of ideas on how to use this plant. I'm mulling ideas for a mailbox garden and this russelia is on my list of possibles.

  9. Very pretty! Sounds like they grow anywhere which is really nice. :)

  10. Thanks everyone! Sorry if I don't get everyone's comments...

    Thanks for the success story, and I'm glad you used it hanging over a wall! I'll have to pin down some stems to air layer it myself...

    Hummingbirds do love it, but my big one is in the sideyard where no one sees it! I planted one in the front, but its still pretty small.

    It shouldn't die unless the ground freezes. Mine withstood several nights of very hard freezes.

    Yeah, why don't you have one of these? I can just picture all the great shots you'd post of it!

    Terra Mirablis:
    I think that people know its drought tolerant so they give it lousy spots in the garden. It can handle drought, but looks much better with moisture.

    I think a mailbox garden is a neat idea! Just be aware that they can get big and overgrown...

    They're pretty tough! Thanks for visiting!

  11. Love the blooms on this one. I almost didn't read this post 'cause I figured it was about another plant that I know commonly as "firecracker plant." But I think I like this bloom shape better than the one I'm thinking of.


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!