The Firecracker Vine

Who says you can’t have firecrackers in North Carolina? If you are looking for a plant to light up the landscape with cracklin’ hot colors during the summer months and into the early fall, look no further than the firecracker vine.
Botanically referred to as either Ipomoea lobata or Mina lobata, this Central American native is closely related to morning glories and ornamental sweet potatoes, of which this pretty vine shares a strong proclivity to creep, crawl and sprawl. The firecracker vine can reach to lengths of 10 to 15 feet or more.

This plant gets its name from its flowers’ clusters of curved, tubular beauties that start out bright red and then explode into hues of orange, yellow and white as the blooms mature. There can be as many as 12 flowers on each cluster. And bird watchers should note that the snap, crackle, pop of these impressive blossoms won’t go unnoticed by passing hummingbirds.

Another common name for this eye-catching vine is “Spanish Flag,” and if you need to know why, just look at the colors on the national flag of Spain.

This vine can be a dependable perennial in Zone 8 and areas further south, but in our region, it is usually too tender to survive our normal winters. As a result, the firecracker vine is generally used as an annual in area gardens. Although often sold as a plant in local nurseries, the firecracker vine can also be easily started from seed. Planted in warm, well-draining soil, germination usually takes place in less than two week and growth is rapid after that.

If you want to try growing from seeds, for better germination, soak the seeds overnight before planting to help soften up the hard outer shells. Seeds or plants should be set in well-worked soil that has plenty of compost mixed in to aid drainage. Mounding the planting site up slightly will also help drainage.

The firecracker vine will flower better if a balanced moisture rate is maintained through the growing season. This is best done by adding 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around the plant. “Too much of a good thing” is an operative caution here because mulching any thicker could cause the plant to have problems with root rot.

Full sun also makes for better flower displays, but to reduce stress on the plant during the worst of the summer, some shade late in the afternoon is preferred.

A balanced fertilizer not overly high in nitrogen applied at planting time and once more during the blooming season will make for a strong, long-lasting bloom show. A time-release fertilizer (again, not high in nitrogen) at planting time will also work, but additional monthly applications of a diluted, organic-based liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion will help sustain the vine’s growth and flower power.

Treat the firecracker vine like any other annual in your garden and provide supplemental waterings when the rains don’t come. As mentioned, the addition of a light mulch covering around the plant will help retain a consistent moisture supply.

It is easy to be dazzled by this plant’s bloom displays, but don’t overlook its foliage. The deeply indented, three-lobed, green leaves are a perfect foil for the colorful flowers and provide visual interest in their own right.

The most obvious use for the firecracker vine is to cover a trellis or drape along a fence, but also consider allowing it to spill out of a container planting or even a large hanging basket. In addition, the blooms’ interesting qualities shouldn’t be overlooked for use in cut-flower arrangements.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, go to his Web site at

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