932 Cuphea hyssopifoliaCommon Names: Mexican false heather, false heather, Hawaiian heather, elfin herb Family: Lythraceae (loosestrife Family)
Mexican false heather is a small tropical evergreen sub-shrub with many charming attributes including compact form and fine textured foliage. Growing to a maximum height of about 24 in (61 cm), false heather grows to form flat topped mounds 18-36 in (45.7-91 cm) in diameter. The plant's flat feathery sprays of foliage are 12-18 in (30.5 cm) long and are highly branched. The small oblong leaves resemble those of Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris also known by its synonym Erica vulgaris) and are about 3/4 to 1 in (1.9 cm) long and 1/4 to 1/2 in (0.6-1.3 cm) wide. They are arranged alternately the length of the stems giving the plant a fernlike appearance.
In tropical climates tiny flowers emerge from the axils (the points where the leaf attaches to a stem) to create a show of color that lasts for much of the year. False heather flowers range from the typical purple and lavender to the less frequently seen white, pink and deep rose varieties.
As one of its common names implies, Mexican false heather in native to a region extending from Mexico south into Guatemala. In the last decade or so, its popularity in warm winter areas as a garden plant has increased greatly - you see the stuff everywhere!
CulturePrune lightly in spring if the plant becomes scraggly. Prefers well drained fertile soil so provide a good slow release fertilizer in late winter, spring and summer for best flowering. Indoors use a liquid fertilizer according to manufacturer's directions. Light: Foliage color is prettiest when grown in broken shade. False heather can take full sun but the plant looses its rich green color. When grown as a house plant provide lots of bright light but protect from direct sunlight. Moisture: Needs regular watering to look good, but mine seem to be rather durable, surviving short periods of drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. This is a tender tropical shrub and it will be killed to the ground by freezing temperature. Here in my North Florida Zone 8 garden healthy plants usually recover but flowering is deferred until late summer and lasts until the first hard freeze. Propagation: Large clumps may be divided. It can also be propagated by taking short, 4-6 in (10.2-15.2 cm) tip cuttings. In warms areas, Mexican false heather may self-sow. It is easily grown from seed planted in spring.
In tropical areas Mexican false heather is a perfect choice as a permanent evergreen groundcover and delivering an almost non-stop flower show as a bonus. Requiring only minimal pruning and bothered by few pests, this low maintenance shrub is excellent for commercial plantings. Also works well in beds and borders as its fine textured medium green foliage provides gentle contrast to coarser leaved varieties. Its height also recommends it for use in mid-bed plantings where its 2 ft (0.6 m) height is sufficient to hide late summer legginess in background plants while itself providing a pleasing background for showier, shorter bloomers in the foreground. This plant is also a good candidate for greenhouse and conservatory where it delivers lots of color and satisfaction but requires little effort.
False heather's compact size and evergreen nature make it a perfect permanent addition to small spaces. It blends nicely with other plants in container gardens and rarely requires special attention. Combine false heather with it's close cousin, cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) for a sensational color combination of orange and purple. False heather is easy to find at most garden centers and nurseries. It is cheap and easy to grow so plant a few and all kinds of sulfur butterflies will come running to dine on this vibrantly colored feast that you have set!
Jack Scheper 10/14/01; updated 11/3/03