UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

Quick LinksLandscape Use    Relatives    Culture    References    

April 18, 2006

Feature Article - for release the week of April 23, 2006

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent


Mexican Heather for dry Spring Weather

What will happen if your favorite pet consumes the wrong plant?  This concern often comes to our Extension office.  One recent office visitor found out that the Cardboard Palm could be fatal to Fido, while another caller wanted to know if a common bedding plant found in Florida Yards Ė Mexican Heather Ė would cause problems for her dogs.

While Iíve not found any references to plant poisoning from Mexican Heather, the call gives me an opportunity to introduce the good and bad points of this landscape plant. For a splash of seasonal color as our spring weather turns hot and dry, this plant canít be beat.

Todayís plant is more properly called False Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) to distinguish it from other plants named heather.  It is native to Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.  Originally introduced as a seed oil producing plant, it is now fairly common in local landscapes. They are small shrubby plants with white, pink or lavender colored flowers and readily available in local garden centers.


Wild heather (e.g. Calluna vulgaris) doesn't grow in Florida. It's no relative to False Mexican Heather. Photo: Rampant Scotland

Above and right: False Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifola) Photo: Sandy Wilson, UF/IFAS

These distant cousins of Crepe Myrtle are known for their abundant flowers.  Cupheas (coo-FEE-ahs) may last for several growing seasons in our landscapes. With small dense, green foliage, they grow up to two feet high. This plant forms flat-topped mounds and works well when many plants are massed together. Mexican Heather is used as a flowering perennial in warmer areas, but can be used as an annual in areas where it will be killed back by a freeze.  It will usually survive year-round in our area, but it produces seed that can rejuvenate it if it freezes.

Occasionally, the seedlings will pop up outside the plant beds in our Florida Yards.  It should be watched to keep it in bounds: in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, it has escaped into natural areas.

Bat-faced Cuphea (C. llavea) Photo: Plant Safari.com 

Cigarette Plant (C. ignea) Photo: Kurt Stueber

Giant Cigar Flower (C. micropetala)  Photo:  UF/IFAS Escambia County Extension Service

Santa Rosa County Extension Agent Theresa Friday tells me that there are several other species and as many as 40 cultivars of Cupheas.  They have tubular flowers that make them attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Their odd-shaped flowers give us some unusual common names - here are some of the most commonly used ornamental Cupheas: 

The Bat-faced Cuphea (C. llavea) is named for its unusual flowers, which look like the face of a bat in shades of purple and scarlet red. Itís easy to grow, is low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and heat loving. This is one plant that children will love looking at: the flowers will remind them of Mickey Mouse, and Disney makes use of them in their Orlando landscapes.

 The Cigar Flower or Cigarette Plant (C. ignea) has brilliant orange flowers. The flowers are skinny and tubular. This plant will typically grow to be about three feet high with a similar spread.  The leaves are dark green and lance shaped.

Giant Cigar Flower or Candy Corn Plant (C. micropetala) has magnificent orange and yellow flowers. This is one of the largest Cupheas and will reach five to six feet in height with a spread of three to four feet. While other Cupheas are year-round bloomers, this one will flower in the fall.

Growing Heather in Florida Yards

False Heather grows in bright light to partial shade, but more flowering occurs under brighter light conditions.  Choose places with well drained soil.  Root rot is a problem when Mexican Heather is kept too moist or if planted too deep.  It also has poor salt tolerance, so be careful when using well water sources for irrigation.  On the plus side: Texas A&M suggests it has good resistance to deer grazing. 


An Altica species chews on Cuphea (Mexican heather). Photo: Doug Caldwell, UF/IFAS Collier County

If properly placed in the landscape, few pest problems will occur with this plant.  Again, root rot will cause plant decline if these plants get too much water.  Mites and caterpillars sometimes attack Mexican Heather. Other pest issues are metallic leaf-eating beetles. Collier County Agent Doug Caldwell knocks these small beetles onto a piece of white cardboard held under the stems to see if these are the culprits.  If 15% of the leaves are chewed up, itís time to apply a labeled insecticide.



Occasionally nematodes can also add to the decline of Mexican Heather plantings.   In very sandy soil, they are a problem.  If adequate water and fertilizers are not available, root knots nematodes may reduce heather plantings. A complete removal of infested plant parts will be necessary before beds are replanted.

Pinching or light pruning helps make these plants bushy. New plants are produced by rooting cuttings or from seedlings that volunteer under the canopy of these shrubs.  Cuttings will capture the desirable characteristics of Mexican Heather, while seedlings may be less dependable in their appearance.

Iíve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on Mexican Heather, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 5 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  (And remember your secretaries this Wednesday!)


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean Last update: 04/18/2006 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  


Caldwell, Doug.  Is your Mexican heather shrinking? [Insect Problems and Solutions Fact sheet.]  Naples : UF/IFAS Collier County Extension Service, 3/2006. http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/Horticulture/Cuphea%20Chewers.htm

Gilman, Ed.  Cuphea hyssopifolia. [FPS-159]. Gainesville :  UF /IFAS Florida Cooperative Extension Service, October 1999.  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/CUPHYSA.PDF  

Popenoe, Juanita.  Mexican Heather Commercial Production Guide.  Tavares: UF/IFAS Lake County Extension Service, 11/2005. http://cfextension.ifas.ufl.edu/Nursery%20Production/Woody/pdf/cuphea.pdf

Schoellhorn, Rick .  Warm Climate Production of Cuphea species for Florida [EFL0104].  Gainesville :  Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Commercial Floriculture Update, March 2004.  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/floriculture/Crops/Cuphea%20production.pdf