Our pick-of-the-pots this month will provide a great splash of autumnal colour to your shrubbery.
The Firespike (Odontonema strictum) is a member of the Acanthaceae family and is found in the wild in tropical Central America where it grows in thinly planted woodland areas.
Firespike makes an attractive, full-bodied, green shrub. Its widely spaced branches tend to grow vertically and can reach 1.5 – 2m in length. Its leaves are shiny and dark green with waxy edges and pointed ends. The leaves grow on alternate sides of the stems and are 10 – 15cm in length. It starts to flower in the autumn and, if there is no frost, will continue to flower throughout the winter. The flame-red flowers are produced on stems 20 – 30cm long, and they are small, around 2cm in length, and shaped like thin bells.
Firespike is best grown in part-shade on well drained soil,although it will also grow in full sun. Once it is well established it will survive longish periods of drought. However, in the garden in times when there is no rain, it should be watered at least once every two weeks. In frost free areas it is an evergreen half woody shrub. After light frosts it may die back and reappear from the base next spring.
It can be propagated from cuttings which root easily and should flower in the first year of planting.
Firespike is especially valued for its colourful autumnal flowering and can be planted with other shrubs in a group setting.
It is also a plant which attracts butterflies and as such is a valuable addition to any garden, and not just ornamental ones hammered into a nearby tree!