Firecrackers in the garden

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Manettia cordifolia in the garden of Lyn Cox in Sydney

A plant that is attracting interest in my garden at present is a dainty climber called Manettia cordifolia (the firecracker vine), pictured at left in the garden of Lyn Cox in Sydney. It is a lightweight vine that twines around a support: in my case a metal obelisk. It has stunning and vibrant red-orange tubular flowers in summer and autumn, which smother the vine. I was only familiar with its cousin Manettia luteorubra (the Brazilian firecracker), with smaller red flowers tipped with yellow, until I encountered it in the garden of my friend last year.

Manettia cordifolia

The vine had been passed down from generation to generation in her family: it was originally brought home to her grandmother by her grandfather, who worked as a gardener in some grand Wahroonga properties in the Depression. Pieces were given to various relatives. An aunt grew it in Moree, and it flourished just as well there as in Sydney. It is completely herbaceous, dying down in winter then reappearing in spring. My friend grows it on a support in a large pot. It seems to grow best with an ample amount of sun. I was thrilled to be given a piece of the vine last year and am enjoying watching its flowers bloom and reflecting on the random twists of fate that have brought it into my garden - as with so many plants I have acquired over the years!

Russelia equisetiformis

I am growing it in a hot-coloured border with larger brightly coloured flowers such as Canna, Dahlia, Tithonia rotundifolia and Abutilon, but I have also added in a number of plants that have petite, red or orange tubular flowers very similar to that of the Manettia cordifolia, and in bloom at the same time, but which belong to totally different plant families. Funnily enough, I discovered that for several of these plants, their common name is also 'firecracker' - which seems to be the name given to any brightly coloured plant with a profusion of tubular flowers that look vaguely like a shower of sparks! The genus Manettia belongs to the Rubiaceae family of plants (which includes Gardenia, Pentas and Rondeletia). A plant from the family Plantaginaceae (which includes specimens such as Linaria, Rehmannia and Veronica) with a massed display of slender red-orange trumpet flowers is Russelia equisetiformis (ht 1-1.5 m, pictured above), a willowy, arching shrub ... sometimes called the firecracker plant. I have this growing in the hot-coloured border.

Ruellia brevifolia

Dicliptera sericea - sometimes apparently called the Uruguayan firecracker plant - also has long tubular flowers, though these are a more distinct orange hue. This is a tough, low-growing shrub (ht 60 cm) that is in bloom through the warmer months and will grow in sun or shade, though I have found it does best with more sun. It is from the Acanthaceae family of plants, as is the small shrub Ruellia brevifolia (ht 60 cm, pictured left) with uncannily similar flowers to my new Manettia. This Ruellia is something of a naughty weed, which pops up in many unexpected places in my garden, but it has an almost neon quality to its bright red-orange blooms, and obligingly grows in dense, dry shade. I pull up many of them but allow a number to remain, dotted through my hot-coloured border

Yet another plant with sparkling tubular flowers is Cuphea - often known as the cigar plant but also as Mexican firecracker! The common form has a reddish-orange elongated bloom with white and black tips, but I have an unusual species with paler orange flowers that I have growing beneath my Manettia cordifolia, forming an effective combination. It is Cuphea cyanea (pictured above) growing to about 60 cm and flowering over a long period from late spring to autumn. This species seems to have a number of different coloured forms. The genus Cuphea is from a different plant family again: the Lythraceae (which also includes Lagerstroemia, the crepe myrtle tree).

I am enjoying all these 'firecrackers' in my hot-coloured border at the moment, and wondering how such similar flowers come from such a diversity of plant families! Of course, to a botanist they have many different features but to me they provide a brilliance that pleases my eye, and grouping them together gives a coherence to my long border.

Reader Comments

  • By Sue T. 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 16 February 2015

    Those Cupheas are interesting.Looks like I now have more things to hunt out at the plant fair. I do think there are a lot of different Cuphea types now. They are such easy plants to grow inour climate. And they bloom for a long time! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 16 February 2015

    "Firecracker"is a very apt description for these plants, as their vibrantly coloured blooms bring a brilliance to the summer garden, which cannot be ignored. Like you, I am amazed at the diverse families to which they belong. M. luteorubra grows happily for me, beside a snail vine, and Ruellia brevifolia, pops up in various spots, but is easily removed. M. cordifolia, unfamiliar to me, appears a very welcome addition to the garden. Great blog, with great ideas, thank you. Thanks, Margaret. I will try to propagate my new Manettia once it is more established. I gather it may self-seed! Deirdre

  • By Marilyn 2250 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 16 February 2015

    We purchased a Manettia labelled M. inflata John Elsley at Plant Lovers Fair last September. Your blog sent me Googling and I found it under M. inflata, M. cordifolia and also M. luteorubra! I suspect it is the latter. The names for these vines are quite vexing. I feel pretty confident about the names of my two but I might need to research the topic a bit more. Deirdre

  • By Margaret 5171 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 16 February 2015

    Gorgeous

  • By Peter 2008 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 16 February 2015

    Hi Marilyn, yes I noticed that Manetia also and Wes Vidler from Weslor Nursery sells it to me as M. inflata "John Elsley" - the Chilean Firecracker Vine . I"m guessing that this is the right name as Wes researches plant names fairly carefully before having labels made, so I reckon this would be the one to go with... Dave"s Garden shows it as M. luteorubra. SUCH a welcome small evergreen flowering twiner for Sydney by any other name would look as good, mine just showing a few flowers TODAY Thanks, Peter. Weslor Nursery has some fabulous and unusual vines - as Peta mentions below, they will be at the Collectors Plant Fair this year. Worth seeking out. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 16 February 2015

    Hi Deirdre. I"m so pleased that your garden is full of treasures from the Collectors" Plant Fair, I must admit so too is mine. I have the same pale orange Cuphea. I"m drooling over the line-up of over 60 exhibitors and the 3 excellent speakers - all plant experts. My piggy bank is filling. I"m looking forward to seeing Wes Vidler"s plants AND to meeting Tim Drewitt for the first time. Thanks for the blog Deirdre, your garden is always inspiring. See you April 11/12 at the Collectors" Plant Fair. I am sure all keen gardeners are looking forward to the fair, Peta!! It is always such a great day out and a place to run into gardening friends! Deirdre

  • By Pam 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 16 February 2015

    Thanks Deirdre for the photos of the pretty bright coloured vines. I have the Costa Rican Butterfly vine (Dalechampia) flowering in my garden now - bright cerise butterflies. That is a gorgeous vine. Would love to try it one day. Deirdre.

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