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Odontonema tubaeforme (Bertol.) Kuntze 1891
pronounced: oh-don-toh-NEE-muh too-by-FOR-mee
(Acanthaceae – the black-eyed Susan family)
pronounced: oh-don-toh-NEE-muh STRICK-tum
common name: Firespike
Odontonema is from two Greek words, οδοντο-(odonto-), ‘concerning teeth’, and νημα (nema) , a thread, referring to the stamens; tubæforme is from the Latin tuba, a trumpet, and formis, botanical Latin for ‘in the shape of’. In the synonym, strictus is Latin for ‘drawn together, close’.
This is a showy evergreen shrub with sparse, stiff branches that mostly grow straight upwards to nearly 2 m in nature, and about 1 m in a container. It is native to open, semi-forested areas of Central America. In other places it has escaped from gardens and colonized, particularly in parts of Florida.
It is a fast grower. The opposite, simple leaves are dark green with wavy margins and long pointed tips, 10–15 cm long by about 5 cm broad. They are quite like avocado leaves.This is a very showy plant. It produces abundant upright panicles, terminal or axillary, of brilliant red tubular waxy flowers that are slightly curved, from late summer through to winter. The individual flowers are 2–3 cm long, and 2-lipped.
The plant will spread by underground sprouting, enlarging to form a thicket, but it is relatively easy to control and to keep contained. It may also be propagated by cuttings in spring, or by seed. The softwood cuttings root easily, and will often strike if merely stuck in the ground in a spot where a new plant is required. The flowers produce nectar, and are very popular with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Firespike is fairly drought-resistant, and will survive for quite long periods without watering. In our hot climate it seems to prefer some shade. Cutting the plant back in spring will encourage branching. In cold climates, the plant will usually die back in winter, and resprout in spring.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, and should not be ingested, or even burnt. Handling parts of the plant may sometimes produce allergic reactions.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009, 2014
Page last updated 30th January 2018