Cuphea is a family of plants containing about 115 species according to the GRIN website. Members of the Lythraceae or loosestrife family, these woody subshrubs hail mostly from tropical regions of Central America and Mexico; however, some are native to North America.

As a group, they freeze to the ground in winter in my Zone 8 garden. Every spring most of them return reliably. Most species begin blooming almost as soon as they emerge from their winter dormancy. Others, however, initiate flowers during the short days of autumn.

In frost-free climates, Cuphea is evergreen and blooms most of the year. In Zones 7 and northward, these plants are often grown as summer annuals. In this role, they bloom from the time they are placed in the garden until frost kills them come winter.

Several species are popular garden plants. Below are details about some of the most commonly grown species.

Scientific name: Cuphea llavea (bat face cuphea, cigar plant, tiny mice, bunny ears)Image

Say: KOO-fee-ah LAY-vee-uh

Flower: red, purple, black, reminiscent of a tiny purple bat's face with red ears; blooms spring through fall

Size: 18 - 24 inches tall and wide

Hardiness: USDA Zone 8; treat as annual in lower zones

Culture: Grow in full sun or filtered sun in containers or in the ground. Drought tolerant but best with regular watering.

Comments: Several cultivars are available, such as ‘Tiny Mice', ‘Torpedo', and ‘Totally Tempted' (thumbnail picture). The Flamenco® series (hybrids of Cuphea llavea and the C. procumbens) includes ‘Flamenco Cha Cha' (flowers uniform fuchsia-purple), ‘Flamenco Rumba' (bright, lighter red flowers with purple faces), ‘Flamenco Samba' (burgundy flowers with a deep purple-colored face), and ‘Flamenco Tango' (hot pink or vivid red flowers with lavender faces). Floraplant, S.A. de C.V. of Mexico offers the Vienco® series that features open, showier flowers. Cultivars include ‘Vienco Burgundy', ‘Vienco Lavender', Vienco Purple Pink', ‘Vienco Purple Red', ‘Vienco Red', ‘Vienco Salmon Purple', and ‘Vienco White'.

ImageScientific name: Cuphea igneaImage

Common names: cigar plant, cigarette plant, firecracker plant, cigar flower
Say: KOO-fee-ah IG-nee-uh

Flower: bright red, tubular, about 1.25 inches long; bloom singly in leaf axils; each has a narrow, tubular, red calyx; at the tip of the flower is a narrow white rim and two tiny purple-black petals; resembles a lit cigar or cigarette

Size: 20-30 inches tall and wide

Hardiness: USDA Zones 10-12

Culture: prefers bright sun but tolerant of some shade, likes moisture, tolerant of short dry spells, easy from seeds or stem tip cuttings

Comments: Cultivars available include ‘David Verity' and the Matchmaker® series, ‘Matchmaker White', 'Matchmaker Scarlet', and ‘Matchmaker Pink'.

Scientific name: Cuphea hyssopifolia

Common names: Mexican false heather, false heather, Hawaiian heather, elfin herbImage

Say: KOO-fee-ah his-sop-ih-FOH-lee-uh

Flower: small, trumpet-shaped flowers with six spreading lavender petals produced in leaf axils; flowers sometimes white, pink, or deep rose

Size: 12 to 24 inches tall and wide

Hardiness: USDA Zones 9-11

Culture: full sun to part sun; foliage color best in part shade; moist soil but tolerant of short dry spells

Comments: Cultivars include 'Allyson', 'Lavender Lace', 'Limelight', and 'Alba'. May self-sow in warm areas; easily grown from seed; frequently used as evergreen groundcover in areas where it is hardy.

ImageScientific name: Cuphea micropetala

Common names: candy corn plant, giant cigar plant

Say:. KOO-fee-ah my-kro-PET-uh-luh

Flower: tubular, 1.5 inch-long blossoms borne on upper one foot of each stem; flowers open bright yellow but gradually turn orange-red

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Hardiness: USDA 7b and warmer

Culture: site in mostly full sun; some protection from hot mid-day sun beneficial

Comments: The largest growing of the commonly planted Cupheas, this plant has red stems clothed with narrow leaves. Flowers are produced in the shorter days of fall since it is short day flowering.

ImageScientific name: Cuphea varia

Common names: Mexican heather

Say: KOO-fee-ah VAR-ee-uh

Flower: delicate pink and white blooms; fine textured, gray-toned foliage

Size: 12 to 14 inches tall and wide

Hardiness: USDA Zones 10-11

Culture: full sun; moderate moisture, well-drained soil

Comments: ‘Susan's Little Gem'

ImageScientific name: Cuphea cyanea

Common names: black-eyed Cuphea, pink cigar plant

Say: KOO-fee-ah sy-AN-ee-uh

Flower: bright orange with yellow faces and purple ears; darn green foliage on red stems

Size: 18-24 inches tall

Hardiness: USDA Zones 10-11; annual in most climates

Culture: full sun to light shade in well-drained soil, very heat tolerant; brittle stems - plant away from pedestrian traffic; drought tolerant but best with regular watering

Comments: Cultivars include: 'Caribbean Sunset', 'Copper Cricket', 'Pink Mouse'

Of interest to farmers is Cuphea viscosissima (clammy Cuphea, blue waxweed, tarweed). A native hardy from Zones 4-8, this plant can be found in most of the eastern half of the United States and Canada. An interspecific hybrid of this species and Cuphea lanceolata is of interest to farmers. The seeds of these plants are a possible source of medium-chain triglycerides that are currently supplied by coconut oil and palm oil. A few problems remain to be solved, such as the tendency of the seedpods to shatter, indeterminate flowering, and overall stickiness, all of which affect production and harvesting of the seeds.

Cupheas are an important part of low-maintenance, carefree gardens, because they seldom are bothered by pests or diseases if planted in full to partial sun in well-drained garden soil. Whichever species you decide to grow, plan to sit back and enjoy the summer-long display of flowers as well as the hummingbirds, butterflies, and nectaring insects that they attract.