Growing on in a blaze of glory

Gardeners get very tired of name revisions - sometimes we just want the taxonomists to pick a name and stick with it. Odontonema tubaeforme is the latest name for the plant commonly known as firespike; let's hope it stays that way for a while.

You might also see this plant sold as O. strictum or scarlet justicia, just to keep things confusing. In any case, there's no need for us to buy one of these shrubs as they grow very easily indeed from soft-tip cuttings taken about now. If it stops raining for a while you can scout around, find one in flower and ask for some propagating material.

Look everywhere, as this largish shrub grows in both full sun and in shade - and it flowers in either, making it very valuable as a background shrub. In the tropics it grows to about two metres tall, but usually less for us. It has attractive large leaves with the long-drawn-out tip that tells us it is a rainforest plant: this is an adaptation to heavy rain.

Firespike is actually native to Central America, where its flowers attract nectar-feeding birds. I haven't seen any of our native birds taking advantage of it, but that might be because the tubular flowers are too long for them to access. Firespike flowers in long heads of scarlet flowers, held well above the foliage and is of particular value because of its long flowering period. It will keep going for about three to four months, depending on the temperature.

Give this shrub a bit of compost and mulch as usual, with some extra water during spring for best flowering. Plant in either sun or shade, anywhere with reasonable drainage. You can cut the flowers for indoors, but as they drop florets continually they are a bit messy - just about their only unsatisfactory feature.

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