Vermillionaire cuphea a must have plant for blooms, birds, butterflies


Three years ago I wrote an article on cupheas and merely gave casual mention to a variety called Vermillionaire which we had been growing for a year. Now after growing three more years including seven at my home on a rocky red clay hillside in west Georgia, I can say this is a must-have plant.

When I say must have you may be thinking that is a pretty strong recommendation. Now in late July, my plants are about 24 inches tall and 36 inches wide. The -orange-red tubular flowers are non-stop and produced by the hundreds on each plant. There are always 5 or 6 hummingbirds on them leaving occasionally to go hit on my giant Amistad salvia.

The bees are there in great numbers too and every once in a while appear to challenge a hummingbird. This usually ends up with the hummer quickly showing who’s boss. The thing that has surprised me most, however, are the butterflies. Every day, there are Spicebush swallowtails, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, and even Pearl Crescents. This is truly a plant for anyone that enjoys the pollinator garden.

I have mine intermingle with milkweeds and the new Mysty blue salvia. The combination has been very pleasing and really successful. My son who I sometimes consider the ‘Adventurous Color Designer’ uses them in large containers with lime green ornamental sweet potatoes, and even calibrachoas. He uses them at outdoor shopping centers where the clientele is often stunned at seeing hummingbirds at the mall.

Botanically speaking Vermillionaire is a Cuphea ignea hybrid. It develops into a woody-like plant and as I said bearing hundreds of scarlet-orange flowers for months. In zones 8 and 9 it will get knocked to the ground by freezes but normally returns faithfully in the spring provided it doesn’t sit in water during the cold winter. Believe me, it is being grown in colder areas as an annual much like you would a petunia.

When you locate your Vermillionaire cupheas, buy at least three, select a site in full sun and plant in well-drained soil. Set plants 24 to 36 inches apart, planting at the same depth they are growing in the container. Apply a good layer of mulch, water to get established and then enjoy.

In early summer, pinch growth as needed and more branching will follow. My son does this religiously while I have a tendency to leave them natural. Both methods have proven very successful. Feed in mid-summer and again in early fall with a light application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer. These species are drought tolerant, but watering during prolonged dry periods will pay dividends in the fall.

Use them informally in the garden rather than lined up like soldiers. They work well with other hummingbird plants like the firebush or planted in partnership with Chapel Hill yellow lantana and Gold Star esperanza. Blue flowers whether round or spikey create partnerships that you will want to photograph as much as the hummingbirds. A lot of hot weather remains, and Vermillionaire cupheas would make a fine addition to your garden!

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(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)



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