Foliage Follow-up, July Firecrackers!

There are several plants with the term “firecracker” in the name, but none lovelier than Firecracker Fern (Plant),  Russelia equisetiformis. 

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This beautiful  tropical shrub sports small, red, tubular shaped flowers at the terminal end of the branches–and I’m a sucker for red blooms!  The flowers give rise to one common name of the plant (to some, they look like little firecrackers). But  Firecracker Fern hosts other common names: Firecracker Plant, Firecracker Fern, Coral Plant, and Coral Fountain.

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But it’s the “Fern” part of the equation that attracts me.  Though I think the blooms are fetching, the “foliage” of this plant is what I find most appealing.

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This herbaceous (in Austin) perennial forms multiple bright green, arching branches.  Firecracker Fern is a rush-like plant, with wiry, slender foliage,

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though small ovate leaves form along the main branches of the plant.

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Firecracker Fern is  a tropical native to Mexico, but grows officially in USDA zones 9-12.  Here in Austin, Texas, zone 8b, it will die to the ground after a hard, sustained freeze.  The Firecracker Fern doesn’t grow as large here as it does in its native zones because of winter freezes. Most specimens I’ve seen, including my own, only grow to about 3 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide.  In the milder winters of the past 15 years, my Firecrackers often didn’t die back completely. This past winter all of mine died and I wondered if they would return.  Happily, all did and my garden is the better for it!

The specimen beside my pond gets morning to early afternoon sun,

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and the foliage is always striking–I think Firecracker Fern is a good companion plant for a pond garden.   It doesn’t require much water from me, so it also fits nicely with my xeric garden.  While not a strong attractor of wildlife, I’ve seen hummingbirds sipping at the little red flowers.    Firecracker Fern is reportedly deer resistant, though, like many plants, that can depend on drought and situation.

This group of three in my front garden,

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receive morning sun, then dappled shade for the remainder of the day.  They bloom,

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though not as profusely as the pond Firecracker Fern. I dug these three out from the mother plant beside the pond.  Firecracker Fern will form roots when the branches touch the ground around the immediate area where an original plant is located. Firecracker Fern transplants easily, though I’d recommend transplantation in spring because of its sensitivity to winter freezes. If transplanted in the fall, root development might not be significant enough for winter survival. When I gardened in the Green Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden, there were excess  Firecracker Ferns in the garden because several mother plants had rooted out.   I moved those extra plants to different spots throughout that garden, some in shade and some in sun. I think the Green Garden Firecrackers procreated well because that garden received regular irrigation.  It’s an easy plant to pop into a small space and  I always found a home for new specimens.

In my home garden, I like this combination of Firecracker Fern with Mexican Feather Grass, Nassella tenuisima, and Soft-leaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia. 

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And in another view, the slender foliage Firecracker Fern contrasts  beautifully with the wider leafed Pickerel Rush, Pontederia cordata.

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Though I’ve never grown it as such, Firecracker Fern is a beautiful container plant because of its arching qualities–well, also because of its foliage and blooms!  In a container, it would require more regular (several times per week) watering than it does when planted in the ground.  There are also cultivars of this perennial that bloom creamy white or a pale pink flowers.

Beautiful foliage,

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and stunning red flowers,

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Firecracker Fern is a great plant for many situations in the garden.

Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting foliage fun for July.

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9 thoughts on “Foliage Follow-up, July Firecrackers!

  1. I appreciate your in-depth look at this plant that I’ve grown mostly for its flowers, though I like the ferny texture of its leaves too. I think I’ll have more of an appreciation for those now. Mine are still a bit half-hearted after being knocked back so hard last winter. But hopefully a mild winter this year will allow it to recover.

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    • It’s a plant that I really like, but I don’t really notice it that much. I was surprised how quickly mine returned–more so than other plants I have. (Ahem, Barbados Cherry). My garden receives the full benefit of heat-island effect, so I think I’m less likely to lose plants in the winter, though I suppose it’s hotter in the summer. Good with the bad.

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  2. I’ve been appreciating the foliage of this plant a little more in my garden this year since not one of them has bloomed yet after freezing to the ground last winter. There’s plenty of summer left so I should see blooms soon. Those little round leaves confused me a bit that first spring in San Antonio when I thought a different plant was growing out of the roots. Now I know it does that.

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    • No doubt you’ll see blooms soon. Those little leaves are odd. There’s another Russelia (coccinea, I think), that has those leaves. It doesn’t have the same slender leaves of the R. equisetiformis.

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  3. I’m with Shirley – none of my firecracker plants have bloomed yet and I too was confused at the appearance of the little round leaves. I can report with confidence they are deer resistant however – mine are all out front and none of them have been browsed over the past 3 or so years. Two of mine are in what would be a hell strip if we had sidewalks and have tolerated a lot of heat and sun. They are a real winner in our landscapes and I appreciate you bringing them the attention they deserve!

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    • Oh, I’m glad to know (without a doubt!) that they’re deer resistant. I couldn’t remember where I’d read that, I just remember it from some book, somewhere. It’s a great plant–wish I had room for more.

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  4. I thought my firecracker fern was a goner for sure after this past winter. The late freeze made the stems burst with the crazy ice explosions. Amazingly they came back, though, I don’t think they are blooming yet. Thanks for the propagation tip. I had no idea they rooted so easily by ground layering. I’ll have to give that a try.

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  5. Pingback: The Spring Garden | My Gardener Says…

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