There are several plants with the term “firecracker” in the name, but none lovelier than Firecracker Fern (Plant), Russelia equisetiformis.
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.
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.
This herbaceous (in Austin) perennial forms multiple bright green, arching branches. Firecracker Fern is a rush-like plant, with wiry, slender foliage,
though small ovate leaves form along the main branches of the plant.
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,
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,
receive morning sun, then dappled shade for the remainder of the day. They bloom,
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.
And in another view, the slender foliage Firecracker Fern contrasts beautifully with the wider leafed Pickerel Rush, Pontederia cordata.
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.
and stunning red flowers,
Firecracker Fern is a great plant for many situations in the garden.
Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting foliage fun for July.