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Mexican honeysuckles, botanically called Justicia Spicigera (jus-TEE-see-ah, spik-EE-ger-uh), belongs to the acanthus family (Acanthaceae) and are indigenous to the United States – Mexico and South America.
Other Popular Plants from the Acanthaceae Family:
- Sanchezia speciosa
- Aphelandra plant
- Crossandra plant
This evergreen shrub is widely found in India for its bright orange flowers and soft, velvety leaves.
Due to its distinctive appearance, the herbaceous plant has garnered several common names.
- Firecracker plant
- Orange plume flower
- Firecracker bush
The perennial shrub also has three popular names:
- Jacobinia spicigera
- Justicia spicigera schltdl
Mexican Honeysuckle Care
Size and Growth
The herbaceous shrub has a moderate growth rate, reaching the average height of 4’ – 6’ feet tall and a width of 3’ – 4’ feet.
At maturity, the shrub has orange plume flowers with evergreen pointy leaves (3” inches long).
The prominent orange flowers and large green leaves are supported by soft, thorn-less stems.
With age, these herbaceous stems become woody from top to bottom.
Flowering and Fragrance
Mexican honeysuckle produces orange tubular flower colors in the blooming season (summer and fall).
These showy flowers are capable to grow all year long in climate zones with no freezing temperatures.
At maturity, the soft and velvety flowers grow up to 1” – 2” inches in size.
Unlike many sweet-scented varieties of honeysuckle plants, this evergreen shrub has a slightly spicy smell to it and is attractive to hummingbirds.
Light and Temperature
Even though the firecracker plant may thrive in full sun, it performs best in filtered light.
Place the plant in a part-shade location to enjoy the real beauty of the stunning leaves and flowers.
The USDA hardiness zone of the perennial shrub is from 8 to 11.
While the plant is heat and drought tolerant to some extent, it dies easily at temperatures below 25° degrees Fahrenheit (-4° C).
Watering and Feeding
Mexican Honeysuckles have medium to low watering needs.
When newly cultivated, the plant needs to be watered almost regularly to establish the root system.
Avoid overwatering or under-watering or else the leaves may turn grisly yellow.
As the plant becomes well-established, the watering requirements drop considerably.
Unlike the young plant, the mature Mexican honeysuckle only prefers watering once or twice a month to stimulate blooming.
The medium-sized plant vigorously grows on its own and does well without fertilizer.
However, to encourage flowering, apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer, once or twice a year.
Soil and Transplanting
Justicia Spicigera prefers moist and well-drained soil for long, healthy life.
It tolerates various types of soil, as long as it drains well.
The suitable soil pH level is from 6.6 (neutral) to 8.5 (alkaline).
For a successful Mexican honeysuckle transplant, choosing the right time is crucial.
In a cool, chilly season, the plant goes dormant which is the perfect time to transplant.
Root pruning is an important step to consider when transplanting.
This procedure helps sever the largest roots and prepare the shorter ones to transplant with the root ball.
Dig a new hole in a partial shade location with access to unfiltered sunlight.
Dig a large hole, twice the size of the root ball, and gently place the root ball inside it.
Cover it completely with soil and compost. Water the soil and root ball thoroughly for several weeks.
Grooming and Maintenance
- In harsh winter, Mexican honeysuckles may suffer from damage and die.
- Prune lightly to help revitalize the growth.
- For further improvement, water the soil every other week.
- In summer, expose the plant to light shade.
- The plant may sustain direct sun exposure, but the growth rate is slow and poor.
- For the desired result, it is best to cultivate the plant in part sun.
- Mexican honeysuckles are not picky about soil.
- They do well in almost all kinds of soil – loose, compact, etc.
- The basic requirement is excellent drainage.
How to Propagate Justicia Spicigera
Mexican honeysuckles are often propagated through softwood cuttings in summer and hardwood cuttings in fall.
- Fill a pot with potting soil and water to moisten it.
- Make a small stem cutting, approximately 4” inches long and soak it into water.
- Apply powder rooting hormone to the cutting and cover it in the soil.
- Cover with a plastic bag to stimulate rooting. Keep the soil damp until new growth occurs.
Justicia Spicigera Pests and Diseases
In warm climates, Mexican honeysuckles often suffer from fungi diseases such as eutypa dieback, diaporthe stem canker, hypoxylon, leaf blight, and phoma stem.
The perennial shrub is subject to the pest attack by whiteflies.
Mexican Honeysuckles Uses
This evergreen shrub has been employed for the treatment of several health conditions.
It is also used in making a deep blue dye color and as the main ingredient in laundry brighteners.
The leaves of the edible plant are also used for making tea.