Cuphea ignea or the Mexican cigar plant is a genuine 'flowers continuously' plant. It keeps soldiering on until obliterated by frosts. This plant is best treated as an annual in temperate areas and grown fresh each year from seed.
Growing the Mexican cigar plant from seed
Surface sow your seeds of Cuphea ignea around the beginning of April. Growth is fairly rapid once germinated so don't start too early. You don't want tray loads of gangly plants that need trimming back before planting. Bigger plants require more watering, particularly if growing in a small container.
The seeds of the Mexican cigar plant germinate easily and within a short time of each other. This allows them to be planted in a seed tray. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, i.e. a couple of pairs of leaves, prick them out. If you don't have too many, transplant them individually to small plastic pots. In the case of large numbers of plants it is easier to plant them up into modular seed trays.
Six weeks on, the plants are ready for planting out
When using modular seed trays, use ones with fewer, larger cells. These plants can soon become leggy. Overcrowding them into trays with small cells will encourage this to happen. If your Cuphea ignea plants do get a little drawn out and leggy, simply pinch off the top couple of leaves, just above a joint and this will encourage the plants to bush.
Planting the Mexican cigar plant into the garden
Plant your Cuphea ignea plants about 4 inches (10 cms) apart. As with most plants for the tropical garden, a rich, moist soil will get the most out of your plants. Water well until established.
These are plants for the front of the border. By the seasons' close, plants grown in full sun may reach 3 feet (90 cms). In shadier areas slightly less height will be achieved.
Cuphea ignea flower
The flowers of the Mexican cigar plant are very popular with bees.
Seeds ready for harvest
When the seeds are ripe, the flowers split along the top and present the little yellow seeds on a stalk. It is important to harvest the seeds when ever you see them. The seeds only stay on the stalk for a few days at most. They are also easily dislodged, so whilst squeezing between thumb and forefinger, pick off the whole stalk in one go.
Once harvested, allow the seeds to dry. Package them up in an envelope, label and date it, then start all over again next April.