The Colors of Fall

The Yellow, Orange, and Red Cuphea Plant

By Virginia Hayes

Two species of a genus that is relatively new to horticulture
are in full bloom now and their flowers come in vivid shades of
yellow, orange, and red — just right for the fall season. Their
bright colors are reflected in their common names, as well.
Firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea), or cigar plant to some, forms a
mounding shrub to about a foot in height and is covered with loads
of tiny scarlet tubular flowers. Each miniature blossom is edged
with a line of black. It does best in full sun and regular water
and thus also makes a fine container plant. One added bonus: It is
a good nectar source for butterflies. Candy corn is a favorite at
Halloween, and candy corn plant (Cuphea micropetala) is in fine
form during this spooky season. This species makes a mounding shrub
as tall as three feet and can take light shade or full sun. Its
tubular flowers are larger and showier than the firecrackers of the
former species with a long stamen sticking out the mouth. Each
flower bud is yellow, and as it ages it shades to orange giving
them a variegated appearance. Also attractive to butterflies, the
larger flowers provide nectar to hummingbirds, too. There is an
even larger and hardier version of Cuphea that is apparently a
hybrid between the two species above. It can grow to five or six
feet, and its yellow-tipped orange flowers appear year-round. It is
sold in Southern California under the name Cuphea ignea ‘David
Verity,’ in honor of the former manager of the Mildred E. Mathias
Botanical Garden at UCLA who was one of the first horticulturists
to grow it. This one is more drought-tolerant and thrives in nearly
any situation. One final species of Cuphea is also eye-catching
when in bloom. Its purple flowers sport two flared red “ears”
giving it the look of a mouse. Originally named Georgia scarlet by
its University of Georgia originators, C. llavea is now more
commonly called tiny mice or even Mickey Mouse plant. It mounds to
two feet in diameter and does well in containers or a garden
setting. November Tips  •  Most strawberry varieties need some cool
winter days to develop plenty of flower buds. Plant now for lots of
tasty fruit in the spring. •  Wait until dahlia foliage dies down,
then dig tubers and store in dry peat moss, sawdust, or wood
shavings in a cool, dry place.  •  Sow wildflower seed now and if
the rains don’t come often, keep watered until established.  •
 Learn how to “Maintain Your Natives” while helping to restore part
of San Roque Creek at Stevens Park. Call 897-2606 or visit

for more information. Virginia Hayes, curator of
Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions.
Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St.,
S.B., CA 93101. Send email to


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