Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 214 Odontonema strictum

Common Names: firespike, cardinal guard, scarlet flame Family: Acanthaceae (acanthus Family)
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Firespike is a tropical plant that decorates Zone 8+ winter gardens in Christmas red and green just in time for the holidays.


Firespike is a showy evergreen shrub with sparse, stiff branches that grow mostly straight up to about 6 ft (1.8 m) tall. It has shiny dark green leaves with wavy margins and long pointed tips. The leaves are oblong, arranged opposite each other on the stem, and 4-6 in (10-15.2 cm) long. From late summer through winter firespike produces abundant 9-12 in (23-30.5 cm) upright panicles of brilliant red tubular flowers. The individual flowers are about an inch long and two-lipped (symmetrical).

hummingbird on firespike
A female ruby-throated hummingbird enjoys a feast of firespike nectar.


Firespike, Odontonema strictum, is native to open, semi-forested areas in Central America. It has escaped cultivation and become established in disturbed hammocks in several areas in peninsular of Florida.


Light: Firespike does well in full sun and in partial shade. Moisture: Firespike likes moist but well-drained soil. Once established it can tolerate all but the longest droughts. You should water even established plants if it hasn't rained for more than two or three weeks. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. In frost-free areas firespike grows as an evergreen semi-woody shrub. In zones 8 and 9 it usually dies back to the ground in winter and resprouts in spring. Propagation:


The strikingly beautiful crimson flowers and glossy/shiny leaves of firespike brighten the fall landscape. Plant firespike in mixed shrub borders. It will spread by underground sprouting, enlarging to form a thicket, but it is easy to control and keep contained. Firespike is a must-have for southern butterfly and hummingbird gardens.

Firespike is a prolific bloomer even when grown in rather dense shade. Caution, protect from deer, they adore this plant and will eat as much as you can grow.


Firespike is one of the few red tubular flowers to bloom in autumn and is very popular with hummingbirds and all kinds of butterflies. Unfortunately, white-tailed deer love firespike too, and will eat the leaves. Defoliated plants will grow new leaves, but if the deer persist, the plant eventually will be killed.

Steve Christman 10/9/99; updated 12/01/01, 10/1/03, 10/28/07

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Odontonema species profiled on Floridata:

Odontonema strictum

( firespike, cardinal guard, scarlet flame )

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