929 Cuphea igneaCommon Names: cigar plant, cigarette plant, firecracker plant, cigar flower Family: Lythraceae (loosestrife Family)
Allow me to introduce you to the cigar plant with the scientific name Cuphea ignea. The species name ignea (also called the specific) is Latin for fire. This references the brilliant orange flowers that inspire this tropical perennial's common names like cigar flower and cigarette plant. Personally I don't think these are very descriptive. But apparently there are some who think these skinny 1 inch long tubular flowers look like the glowing ember at the end of a cig - or is it because the flower is vaguely shaped like one of these notorious nicotine delivery devices. Either way I don't much see the resemblance!
Firecracker plant seems more descriptive to me. As the flower matures, it extends a thin threadlike pistil that looks to me just like a fuse. Indeed the flowers are about the same size as the tiny firecrackers, called ladyfingers, that I played with as a kid. But here in Florida, firecracker plant typically refers to Russelia equisetiformis, a plant with similarly shaped flowers so I guess we'll have to stick with cigar plant. Don't you think ladyfinger flower would make a credible alternative - who comes up with these common names anyway?
But I digress, cigar plant is a subshrub that grows to about 3 ft (0.9 m) in height with a similar spread. The leaves are lance shaped or narrowly elliptical and dark green measuring 1-1.5 in (2.5-3.8 cm) in length and 0.25-0.5 in (0.6-1.3 cm) wide. They are arranged oppositely on the stems and flowers arise from where the leaves attach. The stems themselves are slender semi-woody, and tend to be brittle. The branching stems impart a dense, compact form that can become leggy late in the season but that barely diminishes its beauty.
The cigar plant, Cuphea ignea, is native to Mexico and the islands of the West Indies. In recent years, no doubt due to its many talents, the cigar plant's popularity is on the rise among gardeners everywhere.
CulturePinch back the stem tips occasionally to maintain a dense compact shape. Light: Bright sun but tolerates some shade. Moisture: Cigar plant likes moisture but will endure short dry spells. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. This frost tender tropical plant is also grown in Zones 8 and 9 where it may be killed back to the roots but usually returns. In other areas this fast grower is grown as an annual. Propagation: Cigar plant is easily grown from seed. Also from short stem tip cuttings taken in late spring or early summer.
Use cigar plant where ever you want hot bright color throughout the summer. Use it in masses to provide a backdrop for shorter plants in the perennial bed. It works well as a compact shrub at the center of island beds or in large containers. If you garden in a frosty zone cigar plant is easily and inexpensively grown as an annual. Its fast growth rate will ensure a long flowering season. Combine cigar plant's orange with its close cousin, Mexican false heather's (Cuphea hyssopifolia) purple to create a rowdy combination of complementary colors. The false heather grows a bit lower and can help hide the cigar plant's legginess late in the season.
Cigar plant is a fast grower and requires little attention. But it will command your attention as party place for all manner of butterflies and hummingbirds. Plant a mass of cigar plants near a window or the patio where you can enjoy watching hordes of happy hummingbirds come to feast on the beautiful banquet that you have left for them. It is very tolerant of heat and a summer long bloomer. After enjoying just one cigar plant in your garden or patio you'll be hooked.
Jack Scheper 9/2/01; updated 11/8/03, 7/9/06