Cuphea liebmannii Koehne
Cuphea platycentra Lem.
Cuphea tubiflora Lem.
Parsonsia ignea (A.DC.) Standl.
Parsonsia liebmannii (Koehne) Standl.
Parsonsia platycentra Britton
Common Name: Firecracker Plant
Cuphea ignea is an evergreen perennial plant with stems that become more or less woody and persist. A rounded, densely-branched plant, it can grow 40 - 90cm tall and as much wide[
]. It is usually grown as an annual bedding plant in the temperate zone.
This is one of several species in this genus that have been identified as potential commercial seedcrops, grown for their oil. Although a tropical plant, it is said to be suitable for cultivation in some temperate regions. It is often grown as an ornamental in the tropics and as a summer bedding plant in the temperate zone[
Cuphea ignea has escaped from cultivation in some areas and become naturalized as a weed. It is classed as invasive in Hawaii and La Réunion[
N. America - southern Mexico (Chiapas, Oaxaca)
Pinus-Quercus-Liquidambar woodland; at elevations around 1,500 - 1,600 metres.
|Other Uses Rating||
|Pollinators||Lepidoptera, Humming birds
|Cultivation Status||Cultivated, Ornamental, Wild
Cuphea ignea is a plant of the tropical regions of central N. America and is not tolerant of frost. However, it is said to be suitable for cultivation as an annual in parts of the temperate zone[
]. Whilst it can flower successfully for several months even in areas with relatively cool summers, Continental and Mediterranean regions with hot summers have been specifically mentioned - the most important factors being the length of the growing season and the amount of summer heat that is required in order to ripen the crop of seeds
Prefers a position in full sun, but is tolerant of partial shade. It is best grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils[
]. Established plants are tolerant of some drought[
Cuphea has only been investigated as a potential commercial crop for a few years, and still has the characteristics of a
wild plant. Those characteristics that differ from cultivated plants are its propensity to seed shatter, its indeterminate flowering nature, and its overall stickiness. If these wild traits can be overcome, Cuphea's chemistry, coupled with the annual and therefore renewable nature of the plant, certainly can make it a new crop.
Germination in central European climate is slow (14 - 20 days) even in late May after the last frosts, but this is made up for by quick growth and early seed ripening.
Germination is slowed by the thick seed hull. The first seed is produced six weeks after sowing in the greenhouse.
Plants are generally short-lived[
An oil obtained from the seeds has the potential to be used in foods[
In the US it has been suggested to plant Cuphea in rotation with corn and soybeans every three years. If grown this way Cuphea can help disrupt the life cycle of corn rootworms - pests that account for more pesticide use on US row crops than any other insect. (Corn rootworms can cost up to $1billion per annum in control and yield losses)
The seeds, although small, are a potential commercial crop for their oil. The oil is a good source of medium length fatty acids - these oils are usually obtained from tropical sources such as palm and coconut oils. This species is particularly rich in capric acid (87%)[
Industrial oils made from these acids are valuable commodities as they have the potential to replace others made from imported palm kernel and coconut oil. Lauric acid is used in foods, mostly as vegetable shortenings, as a defoaming agent and a booster for soaps and detergents.
Medium chain length fatty acids (e.g. Lauric and myristic) are used in detergents and health and beauty products. Statistics show that 71,000 tonnes of lauric acid oils were processed during 1991 in the EC; they originated from Copra (i.e. Coconut) and Palm kernel
Cuphea has been used as an alternative to coconut oil in soaps, detergents and other products
Seed - can be sown in situ after the last expected frosts[
]. In order to obtain larger plants, extend the growing season and hopefully achieve larger yields of seeds, the seeds can be sown in a greenhouse in early spring at around 21°c. Germination usually takes a few weeks because of the hard seed coat. Prick the seedlings out into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant out after the last expected frosts[