Scientific Name: Cuphea spp.
Common Names: Cuphea cigar plant
Plant Type: Upright annuals or spreading herbaceous perennials to larger woody shrubs with a freely branching habit
Environment: Likes regular watering, some varieties somewhat drought tolerant; has an ability to thrive in bright shade to full sun; tolerant of a variety of soil types, has a low requirement for fertilization; frost tenderness to varying degrees; vulnerable to few pests or diseases when grown outdoors.
Bloom: Copious flower production over a long period.
Uses: Landscaping, borders, containers. Easy propagation and rapid development from seed or cuttings. Attracts hummingbirds.
Other: Tends to hybridize readily, which can lead to a source of confusion for identification, but also exciting potential for future garden-worthy selections
The delicate flowers of cupheas are everywhere in the Garden. In one bend of the path at Bed 14A there are three different varieties of this stunning shrub. It is no wonder that plant collectors, including our own Dr. Don Mahoney, were mesmerized by the variety and colors of cupheas they found from central and eastern North America to Brazil and northern Argentina, as well as islands in the Caribbean. Spreading 3 to 4 feet and just as high, they are covered with hundreds of flowers for many months of the year. Perhaps 250 species, including hybrids, exist in brilliant colors of scarlet, blue, pink, and purple, with names such as Cuphea ignea 'Star Fire' and C. micropetala 'Candy Corn'. One hybrid has the dashing name C. llavea 'Flamenco Samba'.
The combination of the colorful, tubular calyx with modified petals at its tip in contrasting colors and shapes, depending on the species, make cuphea flowers unusual. Cuphea nudicostata from Chiapas, Mexico has a red calyx with two deeper scarlet petals in the shape of ear lobes. Cuphea petals are often prominent and take different whimsical shapes. One needs a magnifying glass to see what nature has created to intrigue butterflies and hummingbirds into doing their "work" as pollinators.
Cupheas bloom in the axils of their leaves, which can be as variable as their flowers. Leaves can be bright green, lance or oval-shaped, or densely crowded on the stems, as in the cultivar 'False Heather', which is widely sold in nurseries because of its hardiness. Though cupheas are native to warm temperate and tropical regions of the Americas, 23 species and hybrids have become thoroughly at home in the San Francisco Botanical Garden because of our mild temperatures and fog.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text: Kathy McNeil. Profile: Mona Bourell. Photos: Joanne Taylor, Mona Bourell, Kathryn Rummel.