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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Firebush :: Native or Non-Native?

Firebush (Hamelia Patens) has to be one of the easiest and also most attractive native plants for a Florida-Friendly garden. It is a woody perennial shrub that grows in poor to great soil, it is drought resistant and withstands our Florida heat and humidity. In Central and North Florida, it will die back when freezing temps are sustained. Like so many of our perennials, it is root-hardy and returns quickly when the soil warms up.

Firebush flowers are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Many times I hear the wings of hummers when I'm paying attention to something else but get near a firebush shrub while gardening. I often see them buzzing from flower to flower also. In my garden Zebra Longwing butterflies hover around the shrubs almost continually.  I've seen sulphurs, swallowtails, and skippers nectaring from the tubular flowers too. When the flowers turn to berries in the fall songbirds happily eat them clean. They are fabulous shrubs for wildlife.

All of my shrubs survived this past winter with no damage which made it necessary to trim back the only one I have located in full sun. It has a natural mounding shape and has grown into a 12-14' small tree. The rest of my firebush shrubs grow and flower just as well in partial shade, but don't get as large and their shape is more sprawling.

I was led to believe the firebush plants in my garden were Florida natives. They were sold as native plants in the garden center. However, subsequent research indicates they are more likely a related variety that is actually non-native. How disappointing! I've been misinformed. In my quest to increase native selections in my garden I bought five of them. The variety in my garden is likely Hamelia patens var. glabra which is said to have clusters of yellowish tubular flowers and smooth leaves like mine.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Native Firebush Plant (Hamelia patens)
The native Hamelia patens flowers are predominantly red like the ones I saw when I visited Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, FL. After seeing these and others in varying places across Florida, it caused me to question the differences I had observed.

According to the Okeechobee Extension Office the non-native selections cause concern because "as non-native imports become more popular in local landscapes, they will interbreed with our native forms and alter the natural populations of Firebushes.  No one is certain if the resulting hybrids will make it difficult for native Firebush populations to survive, and the wildlife that depends on them may also be affected by a loss of the native genetic makeup of Florida’s Firebush." 

Do you know which one you have in your garden? How do you feel about the mislabeling of plants in our local garden centers?

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  1. We carry both the native, the caribbean variety and a dwarf variety of the native at the Florida Native Plants Nursery in Sarasota. We have them labeled as native or non-native (correctly) with growing information on the difference for each for our customers. Garden centers and growers make mistakes just like people do and sometimes this stuff happens, did you confront them about it and did they change their signs? We've bought in what was supposed to be a native blueberry before from a reputable grower that turned out to be doghobble. We had to apologize to our customers, sometimes there's nothing you can do, but you try your best.

  2. I really try to plant only natives now, so I'd appreciate correct labeling on the plants I purchase. I believe the firebush I was recently gifted is not the native variety. Thanks for the information, Meems. Happy gardening!

  3. Bummer ~ I got excited reading the title of this post only to be disappointed that my hamelia paten is the non-native as it has yellow in it's blooms. I've never even seen the red blossoming native variety.

    I checked out Annie's website and it looks like they are only local, no online buying. It's a little far for me to go to buy their wonderful plants.

    It is disappointing when nurseries and garden centers mislabel their plants.

    Happy Gardening Meems ~ It's always a treat to read your posts and see what is going on in your gardens.


  4. I have been disappointed several times with mislabeling. I think it should not be allowed. Surely the owners of nurseries should know what they are selling.

  5. Annie... I appreciate you taking the time to comment. In general, it seems native garden centers are more specific and more likely to be thorough with labeling. I've been to your garden center several times and you know I LOVE it and always learn so much when I'm there. The labels at Florida Native Plants Nursery are detailed and correct. It is difficult (I realize) for garden centers to always get it right. It's troubling that often they don't take the time to understand native plants. ie... if it says Porterweed it has to be native. Wrong.

    We live and learn. This was a big mistake for me since I bought 5 firebush (4 years ago) and they take up a good deal of space in my garden. I'm definitely disappointed and bothered that they could disrupt the population for the true natives.

  6. I too have the non-native variety, though I must say it is the most popular butterfly plant in my yard! The longwings are on it constantly, but so is every other species of butterfly as well as honeybees and bumblebees. However, like you, I am troubled to think that the native species may suffer at the expense of this non-native variety, so I think I will take a drive down to Annie and Laurel's nursery again soon to purchase the real thing!

  7. Thanks for spreading the word. What a great post!

  8. Ahhhhhhh!!!!!! I hate nurseries in miami!! Lol


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

Back Garden: October 2010

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