Published on 09/01/16

'Lime Sizzler' is a dazzling new firebush that grabs attention

By Norman Winter

You can spot 'Lime Sizzler' firebush in a landscape from a mile away! Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but the new 'Lime Sizzler' definitely grabs attention. Ever since firebush was declared a Texas Superstar winner 20 years ago, it has captured the fancy of gardeners, hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Now with the addition of 'Lime Sizzler,' gardeners have gone gaga.

Botanically speaking, 'Lime Sizzler' is known as Hamelia patens and is native everywhere from South Florida to the West Indies, Mexico and Central America. It was actually discovered at a nursery in South Texas, and the plant was then patented. It is so exotic and showy that it seems that the entire green industry wants it in its product line, including the Southern Living Plant Collection.

The shocking green and yellow foliage would probably be enough to make gardeners desire the plant, but add the trumpet-shaped, red-orange flower so loved by pollinators, and it’s really more than a plant geek like me can stand. I’ll be honest, though — I have never met a firebush I didn’t like.

'Lime Sizzler' is more compact, in the 4-by-4-foot range. Across most of the country, it will be grown as an annual and, truthfully, it’s a most worthy value for your gardening dollar. The firebush, which is also called “hummingbird bush” and “scarlet bush,” is related to coffee, gardenia and the colorful ixora. Technically, it is a zones-9-to-11 plant, but will return most years in zone 8. Here in Savannah and the low country, it is a trooper.

In the University of Georgia Coastal Botanical Gardens, ours are 4 to 6 feet and, indeed, have attained that shrubby look, even after dying to the ground. Our 'Lime Sizzlers' were planted late this spring from 1-gallon containers and are now 2 feet by 2 feet. Even at this size, I can spot them across the garden.

In addition to the 'Lime Sizzler,' we grow the typical green form and several plants of the ‘Firefly’ variety. 'Firefly' firebush has smaller leaves and more yellow showing in the blossoms. We also grow the 'Bahama' firebush, Hamelia cuprea, that has glossy leaves and much larger flowers, almost reminiscent of an esperanza or tecoma, but more bell shaped.

When the torrid temperatures of August arrive, many gardeners look for plants that are as tough as nails when it comes to heat and drought conditions. I am happy to say that the firebush fits the bill. Once established, it is very heat and drought tolerant and will grow in almost any well-drained soil.

Even now you could consider planting two or three for a nice show. We are planting 'Lime Sizzler' in the cottage garden with the iridescent 'Purple Flash' ornamental pepper. Even though they are heat and drought tolerant, apply a good layer of mulch after planting.

At the gardens, we also use the other firebush varieties in our Mediterranean garden, where we have them combined with the purple-on-purple Mexican bush sage, European fan palms and giant blue agave. You will find 'Lime Sizzler' so colorful that you may eventually want to try some in containers around the porch, patio or pool. I hope you will give not only 'Lime Sizzler,' but all firebush a try.

Follow me on Twitter @CGBGgardenguru. For more information about the Coastal Botanical Gardens, go to

Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.

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