Flowers of Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis)
Flowers of Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis)

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Description & Uses

The Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) belongs to that category of ornamental plants whose fashion comes and goes, yet they always claim and deserve a place in the gardens of the tropical and subtropical regions of the earth because:

  • The Firecracker Plants have an unusual appearance, which is largely due to the relative visual absence of leaves
  • They show prolonged flowering, with a multitude of wonderfully small red flowers
  • They are extremely easy to grow and very carefree maintenance

And if these features do not stand to convince all the plant lovers for its value, then the editorial team of "Kalliergeia" as a whole has the certainty that the following argument will be able to convince at least a respectable portion of them, namely the follically challenged or baldies, stating that:

The Russelia equisetiformis, which is also a remarkable medicinal plant, promises through the methanolic extracts of all its above-ground parts, the regrowth and / or hair thickening of their devastated scalp.

It is thus clearer (not the head) than the sun at noonday.

The Coral Plant, in addition to its beautiful red flowers, has an amazing form, giving the opportunity to use it in both traditional and modern style plantings.

The Blooming Coral Plant in a Modern Style Garden
The Blooming Coral Plant in a Modern Style Garden
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Firecracker Plant Origin

Russelia equisetiformis (Firecracker Plant) - Map of Origin
Russelia equisetiformis (Firecracker Plant) - Map of Origin

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Brief Description

Family: Plantaginaceae

GenusRusselia

Scientific Name: Russelia equisetiformis Schlecht. & Cham. [syn. Russelia juncea (Zucc.)]

Common Name: Antigua Heath, Coralblow, Coral Fountain, Coral Plant, Firecracker Plant, Fountainbush, Fountainplant, Fountain Plant | Anturio, Coral De Sao, Coralillo, Lágrimas De Amor, Lágrimas de Cupido, Lágrimas De Júpiter, Russelia (in Spanish)

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence

Evergreen

Form

Arching Shape Shrub

Texture

Fine

Growth Rate

Moderate to Fast

Flowering Period

Spring to Autumn (Year Round/Tropics)

Fruiting Period

Year Round

Height

1-1.5 m (3.3-5 ft)

Diameter

2.5-3 m (8-9.8 ft)

Shapes and Colours

Leaves Shape

Dimorphic

Foliage Colour

Green

Autumn Foliage Colour

Green

Flowers Shape

Tubular

Flowers Colour

Bright Red

Fruit

Dark Brown Capsule

Plantation

Soil Type: Well-drained, loamy, clayey

Exposure: Sun, Half-shade

Soil pH: 6.1-7.8

Watering: Moderate

Hardiness: −3.9 °C (25 °F – USDA Hardiness Zone 9b)

Uses

Specimen, mass planting, parks, flower beds, pots and containers

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

The name of the genus Russelia is the Eclatinized adaptation of the surname Russell, which was given by Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin to honor Alexander Russell – and so, we don’t get a say in it.

But if we may say something, it is that Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin (1727 – 1817) of Dutch descent was an important physician, chemist and naturalist, while Alexander Russell (1715 – 1768) of Scottish descent was also an important scientist – physician and naturalist.

And if we may say something more, let us also add that Russell had become better known in his time with the writing of The Natural History of Aleppo (1756), which contains, among other things, the first description of the Syrian hamster or golden hamster, better known as the Mesocricetus auratus.

Etymology of the Species Name

The name of the species equisetiformis is a compound Neo-Latin sesquipedalian-mouthful word consisting of equisetum and formis. Equisetum is again a compound Neo-Latin sesquipedalian-less mouthful word, the first synthetic of which is the Latin equus, meaning horse, and the second synthetic is the word saeta, meaning a bristle, or hair on an animal.

The first of these, the equus, comes from the Proto-Italian *ekwos, which in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁éḱwos, whose meaning is – yes, you guessed it oh reader! – horse.

The second word saeta is etymologically derived from the Proto-Italian *saitā, which derives from the Proto-Indo-European *séh₂ito- < *sh₂éyto- < *sh₂ey- < *seh₂i-, where the latter means to bind.

Based on the above, it is easy to conclude that equisetum means nothing more than horse hair, but since the plant obviously has more than one "hair", then we could – using our galloping imagination – render it as a horse tail.

On the other hand, the normal long neutral suffix formis comes from the word fōrma, which is certainly derived from the Ancient Greek word μορφή (morphḗ), with the latter meaning, among other things, shape and appearance – being unknown for further etymology, having its origin rather Pre-Greek.

Summarizing and attempting a critical evaluation of the entire binomial name of the plant Russelia equisetiformis, we would say that it is botanically sufficiently successful, but it suffers honorably. And it suffers because:

  • Or is it attributed as Russell’s horse tail– an unflattering fact obviously for the proven biped Scottish naturalist
  • Or as a Russell plant that resembles the Equisetum, that is, plants of the homonym genus that belong to those ferns that are characterized as living fossils– recognition, as it were, not very encouraging for the work and personality of the once living Scottish naturalist

Therefore, the issue of pricing for Alexander Russell remains pending for us, as well as the famous Foucault Pendulum.

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Origin & Life Span

Origin

The cradle of the plant is located in a small geographical area of the tropics of Mexico (eg the state of Campeche). The reports about the origin of Coral Plant both from Guatemala, are probably baseless, as it seems that the plant there is not native but appeared spreading with natural dispersion.

Ecology - Habitat

The natural habitats of Coral Plant include mainly glades and borders of evergreen forests, as well as riparian sites on slopes or along streams and creeks, while being indifferent to the composition and type of soil substrate.

Its populations are found from sea level up to 1400 m (according to others up to 1700 m), and develop in a wide range of values in terms of annual rainfall, as they can range between 430 mm – or even less – up to 2000 or even 10000 mm.

Invasiveness

Although it is far from being a dangerous invasive plant, the invasive character of Coral Plant has been recorded in some parts of the tropics.

These are usually plants that have escaped cultivation and have formed sparse or dense thickets along roads, embankments and generally within disturbed terrain zones.

The countries and regions in which the plant has been classified as invasive are:

  • Cuba
  • Fiji
  • French Polynesia
  • Kiribati
  • New Caledonia
  • Niue
  • Palau

Life Span

The Coral Plant longevity reaches up to 25 years. But if the plant lover bears in mind that when the branches of this magnificent shrub come in contact with the ground then take root, she/he can only bow down to another "immortal" plant – even in its cloned version.

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Landscape Attributes

The Russelia equisetiformis is a perennial, evergreen or semi-evergreen semi-woody shrub, relatively small in size with a medium to fast growth rate.

It grows more by spreading, having a height ranging between 1 and 1.5 m and a diameter that often exceeds 2.5 and reaches up to 3 m.

Its shape is arching-weeping, and its canopy has a medium density, irregular outline, and is characterized as a fine texture.

The decorative element of the plant is both its free form and its red flowers, which at the height of flowering literally "flood" it.

The flowering period is remarkably long, since in the subtropical regions it can exceed 150 days, while in the tropics the plant blooms all year round.

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

The Few Leaves of the Firecracker Plant
The Few Leaves of the Firecracker Plant

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Botanical Description

Root

The root of the plant is tap, woody in texture and wrinkled, with many lateral rootlets. It has a brown color, it is odorless, and for the adventurous who would like to try it, it reserves its slightly bitter taste. Its length reaches 17-20 cm (6.7-7.9 in) and its diameter is 1.3-1.5 cm (0.5-2 in).

Stems & Branches

The stems and branches are ribbed, polygonal in cross-section (2-12 corners) and pubescent – except for the top of the angles. They have prominent ridges on the angles and striations between them.

The main stem has a woody base, immediately after it becomes herbaceous, it is monopodially branched, while it start out erect and then becomes hanging, acquiring an arched-weeping shape.

It is usually between 80 and 150 cm (31-59 in) long, its diameter is between 0.6 and 0.8 cm (0.23-0.32 in), and the internodes are about 6 to 6.5 cm (2.36-2.55 in) long.

The branches are thinner, 1.5 to 3.5 cm (0.6-1.38 in) long, 0.1 to 0.5 cm (0.04-0.2 in) in diameter, and have shorter internodes.

The herbaceous part of the stems and the branches are bright green (although sometimes exposed to strong sun it can take on a reddish tint), and they have the wondrous property of photosynthesizing.

Leaves

The leaves are dimorphic, simple, pubescent, and have on the surface of the lamina few circular glandular resinous spots. Adaxially are green, abaxially are light green, they are rough in texture, while the lamina ends in an acute or short-acuminate apex, having a symmetrical base. Taking into account as criteria, mainly their position, arrangement and shape, they are grouped in the Lower and the Upper Leaves.

Lower Leaves: The lower leaves emerge in a whorle, 3 to 6 together, have an ovate or elliptic shape, the margins at the upper part of the lamina are dentate, the length of the leaves varies from 8 to 15 mm (0.31-0.59 in), while the width from 6 to 10 mm (0.23-0.39 in). Attached to the branches with a petiole 3 to 4 mm long.

Upper Leaves: The upper leaves are arranged on the branches opposite or whorled, they have entire margins, their shape is ovate or elliptic -although most often they are found as thin scalelike or needlelike leaves-, and their length varies from 1 to 8 mm (0.04-0.31 in) while their width from 1 to 4 mm (0.04-0.16 in). The petiole is small or non-existent, up to 2 mm (0.08 in) long.

Flowers

The flowers of Coral Plant are hermaphrodite, pentamerus, zygomorphic, hypogynous, entomophilous and ornithophilous.

The synpetalous and slightly bilabiate corolla has a bright red color, the shape of a tubular funnel, a length ranging between 1.5 and 3 cm, and a diameter ranging between 2 and 5 mm.

It consists of 5 petals, glabrous outside and pubescent inside, ending in two lips. The upper lip has 2 short and obtuse lobes, while the lower 3 rounded or obtuse, whose length reaches 2 to 3 mm (0.08-0.11 in).

The epipetalous stamens are 4, didynamous, extending to the top of the corolla tube. The filament of each stamen is light yellow, and is relatively long, reaching a length of 15 to 20 mm (0.6-0.8 in) and a diameter of 0.5 to 1 mm (0.02-0.04 in). The anthers are orbicular, divaricate or slightly pendulous, their color is greenish yellow, and their dimensions are 1 mm (0.04 in) in length and 0.5 mm (0.02 in) in width. There is still 1 barren transformed stamen (staminode).

The pistil is 1, with a gynoecium which is syncarpous consisting of two carpels. The two-locular oval-shaped ovary is superior, reaching a length of up to 2 mm (0.08 in), while the ovules are numerous. The slender, curved at the apex style is about 1.5 cm long (0.6 in), and has a minute, divided stigma. At the base of the ovary there is a nectariferous disc.

The imbricate aestivation calyx consists of 5 dark green sepals, 2 to 3 mm (0.08-0.12 in) long and 1 to 1.5 mm (0.04-0.06 in) wide, whose outer surface is glabrous while the inner is pubescent. The sepals end in erect lobes, broadly ovate-triangular, acute or or mucronate at apex.

Inflorescences

The inflorescences are axillary, terminal, monopodial or sympodial, racemes or cymes, erect or loose, consisting of 1 to 3 flowers. They emerge 2 to 4 per node, the penducles are smooth, their length is between 3 and 4 cm (1.2-1.6 in), they also have smooth, cylindrical, green or reddish pedicels, the length of which is between 0.5 and 1.5 cm (0.2-0.6 in) and diameter between 0.5 and 1 mm (0.02-0.04 in). The bracteoles are small, leafy, linear, with a few glandular resinous spots, and are 1 to 2 mm (0.04-0.08in) long.

Pollination

The Coral Plant pollination is carried out by insects (entomophilous species) but also certain species of birds (ornithophilous species).

Fruit & Seeds

The fruit is a brown capsule with a spherical or oval shape, with a diameter ranging between 3 and 6 mm (0.11-0.22 in).

The seeds are numerous and small, 0.3 to 0.4 mm (0.011-0.015 in) long, light brown in color and oval in shape.

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Climate & Soil

The Coral Plant can grow in a fairly wide range of climates and in a variety of soil environments. In relation to the climatic types the following are mentioned:

  • Af – Tropical rainforest climate
  • Am – Tropical monsoon climate
  • As – Tropical savanna climate with dry summer
  • Aw – Tropical wet and dry savanna climate
  • BS – Steppe climate
  • BW – Desert climate
  • Cs – Mediterranean climate
  • Cw – Warm temperate climate with dry winter

(Köppen-Geiger Climate Classification System)

Temperature

The minimum temperature at which the plant can be exposed without any damage is −3.9 °C (25 °F), while with minimal and generally manageable damage is −6.7 °C (20 °F).

The favorable temperature range for its unimpeded growth – as for most plant species of tropical origin – is between 18 and 32 °C (64.4 to 89.6 °F).

With heat and high temperatures it does not face particular problems, as it withstands values >40 °C (104 °F).

Soil and pH

The Coral Plant adapts to many soil types, except barren, infertile light sandy soils. Thus it can be successfully planted even in heavy clays, provided that they show excellent drainage. However, the best results are achieved in medium textured soils, which contain a high percentage of organic matter.

As for the soil reaction, the soil pH, the plant can be adjusted to a wide range of values ranging between 6.1 and 7.8 – from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. However, the optimal range for its development is between 6 and 7.

Exposure

The Fountainbush can be planted in both sunny and half-shady places. In the latter case it may show relatively reduced flowering, unless it is located in areas where summer temperatures are particularly high.

Also, having high resistance to sea sprays, it can be placed in coastal places, while fully established plants withstand quite satisfactory periods of drought, in places where water is scarce.

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Pests & Diseases

The Coral Plant has practically no problems with pests and diseases. So more for tellingly formal reasons, some parasites are mentioned here, such as mites, caterpillars of some insects (Mariana taprobanes) and some phytophagous adults (Mylabris pustulata), as well as the nematodes Helicotylenchus spp. (Spiral Nematodes).

However, perhaps the most significant risk to the plant arises from poor and / or extremely poor drainage of the planting medium or soil. In such conditions, the growth of various soil fungi is favored, resulting in root rot.

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Toxicity & Allergenicity

Toxicity

The Coral Plant is non-toxic to humans and pets.

Allergenicity

As it is main an entomophilous plant, it does not cause allergic reactions by its pollen.

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Varieties & Cultivars

Although it is not one of the most popular plants, the Fountainbush also has several ornamental varieties to offer. Some of the most interesting are presented below.

Varieties & Cultivars of the Species

Russelia equisetiformis ‘Aurea’ (syn. Russelia equisetiformis ‘Lemon Falls’)

Variety with white flowers – otherwise similar to those of the typical species. It also differs in size, as it is smaller, with a height of 0.3-0.6 m (1-2 ft) and a diameter of 0.6-0.9 m (2-3 ft). The flowering is less abundant than other varieties, but the excellent white of the flower and the shape of the plant gave it the 2012 Royal Horticulture Award of Garden Merit under the name ‘Lemon Falls’.

Russelia equisetiformis 'Aurea' Variety
Russelia equisetiformis 'Aurea' Variety

Russelia equisetiformis ‘Ruby Falls’

Impressive flowers in cinnabar red (vermigion) and rich flowering distinguish this variety. It is also smaller in size than the typical species, reaching a height of 1m (3.3 ft) and a diameter of 1.5 m (5 ft).

Russelia equisetiformis 'Ruby Falls' Variety
Russelia equisetiformis 'Ruby Falls' Variety

Russelia equisetiformis ‘Yellow Gold’

Variety with light yellow flowers, about 2.5 cm (1 in) long, and abundant flowering. It has about the same height as the typical species, ie 1.5 m (5 ft), but larger diameter, which can reach up to 4 m (13.12 ft).

Russelia equisetiformis 'Yellow Gold' Variety
Russelia equisetiformis 'Yellow Gold' Variety

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses

Coral Plants in a Vertical Garden
Coral Plants in a Vertical Garden

Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) - Uses

Ecological

The Fountainbush plays an important role in its natural habitats, but also wherever it is planted, as it is a food source for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

It is also used to stabilize soils and control erosion.

Agriculture

The Russelia equisetiformis is cultivated in several parts of the world as a medicinal plant.

These include, of course, Mexico and various countries in Central America and Africa.

Ethnobotany

Whole stem parts of the plant are used ethnobotanically, both fresh and dried, in various forms, such as decoctions, extracts, or poultices.

Mexico: In the homeland of the plant is used in traditional / folk medicine for the treatment of kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and tuberculosis, while it is also given to fight various inflammatory diseases.

Colombia: For the treatment of kidney stones, a decoction of the whole fresh plant is given.

Nigeria: The Yoruba tribe uses the plant cosmetically to induce hair growth. It is still used, as in other areas, for the treatment of malaria, cancer, leukemia, diabetes, while it is administered against pain and various inflammatory diseases.

China: The plant is used to restore good blood circulation.

Pharmaceutical

And for Coral Plant, modern -although relatively few- research has justified in many ways the traditional / folk therapeutic use of the plant.

Among other things, it has been proven that Russelia equisetiformis has properties:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antimicrobial
  • CNS (Central Nervous System) Depressant
  • Inductive Hair Growth

The active substances and groups of active substances contained in the plant generally include: flavonoids, polyphenols and phenols derivatives, saponins, tannins, steroids, alkaloids, terpenoids, triterpenes of lupane type (including lupeol), phenylethanoid glycosides, iridoids and iridoid glucosides, phenyl propane glucosides, phenyl ethanoids, lignan glucosides and flavonoid glucosides.

Photo Portrait of Telly Savalas

Before

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After

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Ornamental

The many positive physiological characteristics of Coral Plant (such as its tolerance to frost, high temperatures-heat, drought and urban pollution), together with the undeniable ornamental features, enabled its expanded utilization by both gardening and landscape architecture.

Thus, it could be said that Russelia equisetiformis is used:

  • In pots, planters and window boxes
  • To create informal low hedges
  • As a ground cover plant, hanging, and / or climbing (with support) in an espalieror trellis
  • In xeriscaping
  • In compositions for the creation of vertical gardens
  • In rock gardens
  • Combined with other ornamental plants such as Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinensis Rubrum), Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica), and West Indian Lantana (Lantana camara)

References

The references of the article with the tropical sea breeze title Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) – Description & Uses are presented by the Mexican ensemble Marimba Orquesta Perla Del Soconusco with the orchestral version of the traditional song La Sandunga or La Zandunga.

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