Odontonema cuspidatum

Odontonema cuspidatum 


Scarlet Firespike or Cardinal’s Crest


Giving a splash of bright colour here at present is the Scarlet Firespike (Odontonema cuspidatum) from Mexico to Panama.  They are sometimes called Justicia coccinea.  Odontonema belong to the Acanthus family which are widely distributed throughout the warm temperate to tropical countries.

The Scarlet Firespike is a semi-deciduous shrub growing to about two metres in height. The stems usually arise as unbranched shoots from the roots or from stems that root on the ground giving the plant a bushy appearance. The leaves, up to 15cm long, are a glossy green and have a wavy edge. The plant can be cut back, preferably after flowering, to keep it to size if required.

The tubular flowers are a bright red to scarlet (and more rarely pink, white or lavender) and occur in panicles which are sometimes branched. Flowering is mostly in the late summer and autumn. In tropical countries it flowers all year.

The plants like a free draining soil and can be planted in full sun to light shade. They are frost sensitive and salt spray intolerant.

I have found that this plant described as enjoying plenty of water, is surprisingly drought tolerant. I know of one growing in relatively poor soil in an exposed site where it still looked great after a reasonable drought although other plants were looking quite stressed.

You can make a good, small hedge of this plant and cuttings are an easy way to do it. They will flower in the first year.