Several plants enjoy the common name of “firecracker plant,” but this name is most commonly used in reference to Russelia equisetiformis, a Mexican native grown in tropical to subtropical regions all over the world. This plant is named for the colorful waterfall of foliage and flowers that do indeed superficially resemble an exploding firecracker. Nurseries may carry firecracker plant seedlings and it is also possible to grow them from seeds, which may be obtained through gardening exchanges and catalogs.
The firecracker plant produces long, trailing, wiry stems and foliage, topped with tubular red flowers. The plants will bloom through the summer and into the fall in a favorable climate, and while they die back slightly during the winter, they return in spring. Firecracker plants are excellent bedding and specimen plants, and they can also be grown in containers. The drooping foliage can make them very attractive for hanging containers.
Also known as fountain plant or coral plant, firecracker plant is very frost tender, and grows best between United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones nine through 11. Outside this range, it may be possible to cultivate the shrub as an annual, although it will not have a chance to get very large before it dies off from the cold. Another option is to grow the plant in a container indoors or in a sheltered area during the winter, and to bring it out during the summer months.
Full sun, well-drained soil, and neutral pH are recommended for growing conditions. While the firecracker plant is drought tolerant and can cope with dry climates, it prefers to be watered deeply on a relatively regular basis. Watering should be done in the morning or evening to avoid damaging the plant and losing water to evaporation during the heat of the day. Because these plants tend to attract butterflies, bees, birds, and other visitors, people may want to position them in an area where they can be readily seen, to make wildlife easier to spot.
Over time, a firecracker plant can develop a leggy appearance and a balding spot in the middle of the plant. Pruning will help the plant retain a more compact, aesthetically pleasing shape. The plants will also reseed themselves, allowing gardeners to slowly replace older plants with younger, healthier, more compact plants. Good companion plantings include larger shrubs and trees as background plantings to offset the dramatic foliage and flowers.