OF THE WEEK
Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department
Common names: Firecracker Flower, Crossandra
Scientific name: Crossandra infundibuliformis
Explanation of scientific name:
Crossandra - from the Greek, meaning fringed anthers. The male portions of the flower, the anthers, are distinctly fringed in this genus of plants.
infundibuliformis - funnel form, trumpet-shaped, in reference to the appearance of the flower of this species.
Crossandra flower growing in one of Union County College's greenhouses.
The Firecracker Flower, while relatively unknown to the general public as a houseplant, is just about the most prolific and consistent indoor flowering plant. A well tended specimen will bloom continuously for years.
Native to southern India and Sri Lanka, Crossandra infundibuliformis is one of over 50 species of Crossandra found throughout the Old World tropics. As members of the Acanthus family of plants (Acanthaceae), they are related to such houseplants as the Zebra Plant (Aphelandra squarrosa), Black-eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia alata), Shrimp Plant (Beloperone guttata), Nerve Plants (Fittonia) and Ruellia.
The distinctive salmon-orange colored Crossandra flowers have an unusual shape. Growing from four-sided stalked spikes, the asymmetrical petals arise as a slender tube about ¾ inch long and then split to their ends. The flower color complements the dark green glossy foliage. If grown in a rich, moist soil with bright light and high humidity, the plant will remain compact, rarely reaching over 12 inches in height. In its native habitat, the Firecracker Flower grows as a perennial shrub, but even old plants do not reach much beyond three feet in height. I have seen it grown as a low hedge in Florida.
Individuals interested in growing a Crossandra will occasionally find small plants available in garden centers and florists. If cuttings can be obtained from established plants, they root readily if kept warm. Several mail order companies offer Crossandra plants and seeds in their catalogs. Seeds can be collected from mature dried flowers, but only one seed is produced from each blossom.
Plant breeders, especially in Europe, have been hybridizing Crossandras. Cultivars with yellow and even red flowers are available. A Swedish cultivar, ‘Mona Wallhed’, has shiny black-green foliage and a very compact habit of growth.
The Firecracker Flower may not be an exotic tropical plant or a botanical curiosity, but it is a sturdy, productive ornamental that should be more popular with indoor gardeners.