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Russelia equisetiformis Schltdl. & Cham. 1831
pronounced: russ-ELL-ee-uh eck-wiss-ee-tih-FOR-miss
(Plantaginaceae – the plantain family)
common names: Coral Plant, Firecracker Plant
Russelia is named for Dr Alexander Russell (1715 – 1768), who was physician to the English factory at Aleppo, and wrote The Natural History of Aleppo. On his return to England, where he became physician to St Thomas’s hospital, he introduced the beautiful shrub Arbutus andrachne (the Strawberry Tree) to English gardens. Equisetiformis comes from the Latin equisætum, the horse-tail plant, and forma, a shape. The plant has recently been transferred here from Scropulariaceae.
This is a native of tropical America and Mexico. The multi-branched weeping sub-shrub grows 1–2 m high with a spread of up to 1 m. The few tiny, dark green deciduous leaves are scale-like, and grow on thin, rush-like stems. They are opposite, and oval to lanceolate in shape. The bright green arching branches, which bear attractive thin tubular scarlet flowers up to about 6 cm long, often cascade out a metre or more, making this plant an excellent choice for hanging baskets, or for cascading down over a wall. If given the right conditions, the plant will bloom all the year round in the tropics, and from late spring to early autumn in temperate climates. The fruits are inconspicuous, and hang in little clusters.
Russelia equisetiformis is propagated by division or by stem cuttings in the spring. It seems to like an occasional thinning out of the old canes to encourage the growth of young wood that will flower prolifically. The plant does best in light, well-drained and slightly acidic soils, which makes it very suitable for Magnetic Island.
This plant is a great nectar source for butterflies and humming-birds, attracting both in great numbers.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2011
Page last updated 4th February 2017