Hummingbird Bush: How To Develop Flame Acanthus

Hummingbird bush, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, is a native plant that is quickly gaining popularity outside of its native habitat of the west central Texas Edwards Plateau, and for a good reason. Not only do these bushy plants produce beautiful blooms, but the tubular flowers are known to attract hummingbirds. 

They are also the host plant of two butterfly species: the Crimson Patch and Texan Crescent butterflies. Adding a butterfly or moth host plant to your garden will not only end up feeding butterflies but benefit the entire ecosystem. For this reason, they make a fantastic addition to a pollinator-friendly butterfly and hummingbird garden. 

Hummingbird bush begins new growth in the early spring and generally blooms from mid-summer into the fall. Their vibrant flowers are usually red or red-orange, which is the reason it is often called flame acanthus. Not only can hummingbird bush provide a pop of color to your flower beds, but it can also be grown in large pots and hanging baskets. 

Hummingbird bush is a low-maintenance plant that is not at all picky about soil types. Provide it with enough sun, water, and well-draining soil, and you’ll be adding a beautiful plant to your garden that hummingbirds love, as well as providing a habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators. 

Quick Care Guide

Common Name Hummingbird Bush, Flame Acanthus, Wright’s Desert Honeysuckle, Texas Firecracker, Mexican Flame, Wright’s Mexican Flame
Scientific Name Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii
Family Acanthaceae
Height & Spread 2 ft tall and 3 feet wide
Light Full sun but will tolerate partial shade
Soil Neutral well-draining soil; can tolerate heavy clay soils with adequate drainage
Water Low water needs, highly drought tolerant
Pests & Diseases No known pest or disease issues

All About Hummingbird Bush

Hummingbird bush is a drought-resistant plant that is loved by hummingbirds.

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii, or hummingbird bush, is known by many common names and is called Flame Acanthus, Wright’s Desert Honeysuckle, Texas Firecracker, Mexican Flame, and Wright’s Mexican Flame. Hummingbirds love this plant, a member of the Acanthus family and native to South Central Texas.

“Wright” refers to American botanist Charles Wright who collected samples of the plant in the mid-19th century. It is generally found on rocky slopes, scrubland, on the Edwards Plateau, and in Mexican pinyon forests. 

This native plant variety is from South Central Texas, West Central Texas, and parts of Mexico. It grows as a perennial in its native habitat and can be grown as such in USDA hardiness zones 7 and above. In colder climates, it can be grown as an annual. 

Hummingbird bush plants are extremely drought resistant. This has helped them survive in the growing conditions of southern Texas and Mexico. However, it is somewhat frost-tender and dies back in areas that regularly receive frosts. It thrives in full sun and shade, making an attractive shade plant.

Hummingbird bush is one of many popular pollinator plants.

Hummingbird bush is a profuse bloomer with long bloom periods during which it produces sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds to your garden like a hummingbird magnet. The trumpet-shaped flowers bloom from mid-summer to fall and are surrounded by grayish-green or bright-green foliage. 

In late fall, the pollinated flowers produce capsules that have unique structures attached to the seeds. These small hook-like outgrowths are called retinaculums. When the capsule dries, it breaks open, and the retinaculums fling the seeds away, helping the plant to spread. The seeds are also the favorite snack of songbirds. 

Hummingbird Bush Care

This low-maintenance plant in the Acanthus family is easy to care for, especially since it is not picky about soil types. Read on to learn how to provide it with the right amounts of sun, water, and pruning, and it will reward you with blooms that look like long tongues all summer long! 

Sun and Temperature

Close-up of an Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii in a sunny garden, against the backdrop of a gray house wall. The bush has beautiful tubular bright orange flowers and shiny, green, lanceolate leaves.Hummingbird plants need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day to thrive.

Hummingbird plants prefer full sun, although they will tolerate partial shade. In partial shade conditions, however, your plants may only produce a few flowers in the garden. To meet the full sun requirements, be sure to plant in a location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. 

When growing this plant as a perennial, remember that you’ll want to measure the sunlight hours during the winter since this will be when the area receives the least amount of sunlight. 

Certain structures may also only shade the area in the winter when the sun is lowest in the sky. This is important, especially in areas where you’ll be growing this shrub as a perennial. Be sure that your site for the hummingbird bush receives some winter sunlight too!

Hummingbird bush can be grown as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 7 and above. In colder climates, such as zones 6 and below, you will likely be growing this plant as an annual. In these areas, there’s not much need to consider the winter sunlight since the foliage of the plants dies at the first frost. 

This drought-tolerant native plant thrives in dry climates and warmer temperatures, even up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius)! It can survive the late summer in full sun droughts of the southern US easily and attracts hummingbirds the entire time.

Water and Humidity

Close-up of an Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii covered with raindrops, on a green background. The plant has beautiful elongated tubular flowers of bright orange-red color with protruding long stamens from the centers.Hummingbird bush is drought tolerant once established and rarely needs water.

Hummingbird bush is extremely drought tolerant once established and rarely needs water outside of the rainfall that it will receive naturally. It may, however, be necessary to provide supplemental water during periods of extreme drought when the temperatures rise in the height of late summer. This will encourage flowering that hummingbirds love.

Otherwise, it should be fine without supplemental water, though young plants may need more than mature ones. Its natural habitat includes areas of Texas that can be humid, but overall this host plant does not need specific humidity levels to survive and will do just as well in dry climates.

When watering, it’s best to water in the early morning before the heat of the day sets in to limit water loss due to evaporation.

Water at the base of the plant and avoid wetting the foliage and flowers. It’s not necessary to keep this plant on drip irrigation as it will need water infrequently. A soaker hose placed at the base of the plant during extended periods of drought will be sufficient. 

Soil

Close-up of an Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii in a large clay pot against a blurred background of pebbles in a garden. The bush is young, has strong stems covered with lanceolate dark green leaves and small clusters of tubular orange-red flowers.Hummingbird plants can grow in various soil types, preferring neutral pH and well-draining soil.

Hummingbird plants have the ability to survive and thrive in various soil types. They are not picky about soil types. However, they won’t tolerate poorly drained soil. They can even survive in heavy clay soils, provided that the soil is well-draining. 

There is no specific pH range required for hummingbird bushes, but the shrub does prefer neutral soil. In areas with poorly drained soil, you may want to amend the planting site with either perlite or sand to help increase drainage. 

These native plants are used to growing in dry, sandy, rocky soil. Avoid planting a shrub in a low-lying area of your garden or near a downspout, as they don’t like to be left in standing water. 

If you’re growing your hummingbird bush in a large pot, be sure to provide it with a well-draining potting mix. Most potting mixes are made to retain moisture, so you may want to amend with perlite or sand to increase the drainage. Place the pot outdoors and remove the drip tray to allow water to run off freely. 

Fertilizing

Close-up of a Swallowtail butterfly sipping nectar from an Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii in a sunny garden. The butterfly is large, has large black wings with yellow markings and long tails on the hind wings. The bush has beautiful small tubular red flowers and green lanceolate leaves.Hummingbird plants don’t need additional fertilizers, but you can use compost to boost growth in early spring.

Aside from being a shrub that hummingbirds love, another benefit of adding this low-maintenance hummingbird plant to your landscape is that it does not require any supplemental fertilizers. 

You may top-dress your shrub with compost at the beginning of the growing season in early spring if you’d like to give your plant a boost. Be sure not to overdo it, though. Organic matter can increase moisture retention in the soil, which is the opposite of what this plant wants. 

Pruning

Close-up of an Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii in the garden, against a blurry brown background. The bush has tall, erect stems covered with small lanceolate leaves and clusters of elongated trifoliate flowers with protruding long stamens from the centers.Prune flame acanthus in late fall to promote new growth in the spring.

Flame acanthus will need pruning from time to time in order to produce healthy growth. However, there are some things to know about pruning this plant in order to make it successful. Pruning at the wrong time or over-pruning can lead to damage that the plant may have a hard time recovering from, and it may stop producing flowers. 

To promote new growth in the spring, it’s best to prune back the stem tips after the late fall. This perennial does not need to be cut back to the ground.

The plant will lie dormant in the winter, which is the best time of year to perform this maintenance. Prune only the tips as the tubular flowers of flame acanthus grow from last year’s stems.  

This will also give you an opportunity to shape the plant giving you a fuller shrub. If you’re growing this plant as an annual, then the only pruning you’ll likely do will be to remove dead branches and remove a few flowers that are spent to encourage flowering.

Propagation

Close-up of an Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii on a blurred green background. The flower is small, narrow, tubular, red-orange in color with elongated oval petals, slightly hairy on the outer side.Flame acanthus shrubs can be propagated through softwood cuttings by placing stem tips into water or soil.

The flame acanthus shrub can be propagated by softwood cuttings. Take a 6-inch cutting just below a leaf node. Remove the lower foliage and place the stem tip into a glass of water or directly into the soil. Rooting hormone can be used but isn’t necessary. 

Water regularly, and flame acanthus grows roots over the next few weeks. Then you have young plants. This plant can also be propagated by seed and spreads itself by seed very easily.

As mentioned above, the pollinated flowers die back and turn into seed pods with unique structures attached at the end of every season. 

These pods dry up and burst, spreading the seed around with small hook-like outgrowths. To plant them more intentionally, gather the seed pods after flowers fade and they’ve dried, but before they burst. Seeds can be sown indoors in early spring or directly outdoors once all danger of frost has passed. 

Repotting

Close-up of an Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii in a sunny garden against a blurred background. The shrub produces magnificent clusters of orange tubular flowers and green lanceolate leaves.These plants can be grown in pots or hanging baskets but may need to be repotted if the leaves turn yellow.

Hummingbird plants can be grown in large pots or hanging baskets to attract hummingbirds. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on their overall health and appearance to give clues as to when you might need to re-pot this plant.

If you notice the leaves turning yellow or brown and the plant begins to wilt, this may be a sign that it has outgrown its container. 

Roots of Wright’s honeysuckle may also begin to poke out of the drainage holes. Select a larger pot and replant it in the new container, being sure to maintain the same soil level at the base of the plant. This helps you attract even more hummingbirds to the garden.

If you’re growing this plant as an annual, then you will not need to re-pot during such a short growing period.

Troubleshooting

Another benefit to growing these native plants within their native habitat is that they are naturally resistant to most pests and diseases. Some growing problems can arise when you grow Wright’s honeysuckle, however, when care requirements are not met. 

Growing Problems

Close-up of a large bee collecting nectar from the flowers of Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii in a sunny garden. The bee is large, with a fluffy yellow-black striped body. The bush is large, has small tubular red flowers, collected in clusters.Overwatering is the most common growing problem with hummingbird bushes.

The most common growing problems occur when your hummingbird bush is receiving too much water. This can result from poorly drained soils or being planted in an area that receives large amounts of consistent moisture (near a downspout or low-lying area of your garden).

It can also be the result of, well, watering it too much! You likely won’t need to water this plant at all aside from the rain that it receives.

An overwatered hummingbird bush will have leaves that turn yellow and drop off, and the plant overall will wilt. The plant will also look dull and unhealthy. If you notice these signs and the ground around your plant is consistently moist, you may be dealing with an overwatering issue. 

The easiest way to avoid this issue is to allow the soil to dry out between waterings. If you happen to live in an area that receives regular rainfall, then it is even more important to provide it with well-drained soil since the amount of water that it receives will be outside of your control.

You can amend the planting site with perlite, sand, or even small pebbles since this plant prefers rocky, dry soil. 

Pests

There are no known pest issues on Anisacanthus quadrifidus plants. Hummingbird bush is also considered to be deer resistant. Its foliage makes it unappealing to deer. 

Diseases

Wright’s anisacanthus has no known major disease issues. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a hummingbird’s favorite bush?

A: Brightly colored tubular flowers tend to produce the most nectar and attract hummingbirds, making Wright’s anisacanthus one of their favorite plants.  

Q: Where is the best place to plant a hummingbird bush?

A: In a full sun location with well-draining soil. Various soil types work. 

Q: How big does a hummingbird bush get?

A: This bushy shrub grows about 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. 

Q: Are hummingbird bushes perennials?

A: It is a perennial in its native habitat. In colder climates, it can be grown as an annual. 

Q: Do you trim back hummingbird bush?

A: Yes, it can be thinned and shaped every one to two years. Be careful not to prune more than ⅓ of the plant at once as this can disrupt its ability to bloom. 

Q: Why is my hummingbird bush not blooming?

A: As mentioned above, a heavy prune could prevent Anisacanthus quadrifidus var wrightii from blooming in your garden. A lack of tube-shaped blooms can also be caused by a cold snap or a freeze causing damage to the stem tips. 

Q: Is the hummingbird bush toxic?

A: Other varieties of hummingbird bush may be toxic, so always be sure to check the variety, but Annisacanthus quadrifidus var. Wrightii is not considered to be toxic. 

Q: Are hummingbird bushes deer resistant?

A: Yes. Not only does this profuse bloomer attract hummingbirds and bees to the garden, but it is also deer resistant and resistant to most pests. 

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