University of Georgia Planting Cuphea in your landscape is like watching nonstop fireworks at a Disney theme park. Three species readily available and most commonly known as firecracker plant, tiny mice and tall cigar plant all deserve their 2006 Georgia Gold Medal for annual plants.
Firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea), ignites in abundant tubular, scarlet-red flowers edged in black at the leaf axils along the stem. About a foot tall, it's a perfect companion plant for containers or window boxes or for planting in front of taller plants in a perennial border.
A light trimming in midsummer will encourage basal branching, more compact plants and more fireworks until frost. Like the other Cuphea species, firecracker plant does best in full sun and moist, well-drained soils.
Tiny mice (Cuphea llavea) is also known as Mickey Mouse plant and Georgia Scarlet.
It was first released as Georgia Scarlet from the University of Georgia's breeding program. The nursery trade gave it the other names because its flowers resemble the face of a mouse, with two red petals tinged in purple.
Children marvel at the hundreds of tiny mouse faces on short spikes along the stems. Hummingbirds and butterflies visit the plant in abundance, too, to collect nectar from the flowers.
Cuphea llavea grows up to 2 feet tall. It branches freely to form a bushy, compact plant for containers or ground beds. Summer cuttings root readily for sharing with neighbors and friends.
Tall cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala) is a great background plant for perennial borders, reaching 3 to 5 feet tall. Its 2-inch-long, cigar-shaped blooms are reddish at the base, yellow in the middle and green at the top.
The flowers emerge in the upper axils by mid to late summer, tubular and keep coming until frost. By fall, the plant appears to have caught fire.
If you cut tall cigar plants back and mulch them, they can survive mild winters down to 20 degrees.
Watching these three terrific Cuphea plants perform in the landscape will make it clear why they're 2006 Georgia Gold Medal winners.
(Gary Wade is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)