The tender perennial cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) is more commonly referred to as the Mexican cigar plant or the firecracker plant. This tropical evergreen shrub has a bright red flower with white and black tips that could bear some similarities to a lit cigar. The word ignea in the botanical name is the Latin word for fire.
A small subshrub, it rarely grows above 25 inches in height, so some people even choose to keep it as a permanent addition to their houseplant collection. The continual flowering will add interest to your home throughout the year. Although the Mexican cigar plant doesn’t grow tall, it can form in layers, creating a mounding habit. This can easily be kept under control with light winter pruning.
The plant is useful as an attractive, ornamental, and bright front-positioned border shrub or bedding plant. Its neat and compact form also makes it an excellent choice for growing in containers that will add a splash of color on patios, balconies, or terraces. Just be aware that even when grown as a perennial, cigar plants are not all that long-lived.
Cigar Plant Care
Providing your Mexican cigar plant gets enough warmth, sun, and moisture, you will be treated to beautiful, delicate, and bright blooms through most of the seasons.
You will likely have to take cuttings or grow some new plants from seeds every few years, though, when the original plants start to lose their vigor.
Mexican cigar plants like to be in a full sun or part shade position. In more temperature regions, a full sun position will be best. If they don’t get enough light, these plants can develop brown patches on the leaves, particularly after the winter season. They also tend to remain more compact in a less bright position.
This is a tropical plant, so it should come as no surprise that the Mexican cigar plant prefers a fertile, moist, and well-drained soil. Other than this, they are not terribly fussy.
For best flowering potential and growth, Mexican cigar plants prefer moist conditions and appreciate a decent amount of watering. This is especially important when they are establishing and through their growing season.
They do have a high tolerance for hot summers, though, and have some drought tolerance too. Just don’t expect such an impressive and long-lasting array of flowering if you let them get overly dry now and then. In the winter, watering can be significantly reduced, but they still appreciate being kept moist.
Temperature and Humidity
Mexican cigar plants need a sheltered spot, out of strong winds, and don’t forget these plants are frost tender. They will only be able to survive as an annual in areas that have cold winters, or, alternatively, they will need to be brought indoors before the frosts arrive.
If you are keeping this species as a houseplant, they will appreciate regular misting to provide them with the humidity they enjoy. They will even appreciate this during the winter months, as conditions tend to be drier through this season—particularly if you are using heating a lot.
During the growing season, as you would expect from a species that flowers so prolifically, the Mexican cigar plant will appreciate being fed regularly. An application of a weak and balanced liquid fertilizer every few weeks should be enough if they are being grown in fertile soil. Fertilization won’t be required throughout the winter.
With a lot of sun, Mexican cigar plants can become rather leggy. Pinching can help them maintain a tidy and compact form, simply pinch off the stem tips. This will encourage the plant to produce new branches. Pruning in late winter can also be beneficial if their form has become untidy.
How to Get a Cigar Plant to Bloom
These plants bloom profusely, beginning in the spring and going through to the fall. If cared for properly, you will enjoy a profusion of its brightly colored flowers. Plant them in soil that is kept moist and well-drained, locate them in full to partial sun, and keep them watered. Pinching the stem tips when they start getting too long and look leggy will also help keep this plant healthy and blooming.