Odontonema cuspidatum: Firespike

Family: Acanthaceae
Common name: Firespike, Mottled Toothedthread, Cardinal’s guard

Firespike plants are grown in gardens and nurseries as ornamental plants because to their beautiful red inflorescence. The plants can grow to a height of 1-2 meters and have broad green leaves. The name Odontonema comes from words that mean tooth and thread denoting the indented stigma and very thin style of the plant. The team Cuspidatum denotes the pointy tip of the Firespike plant leaves.

The older parts of the stem are woody and smooth, almost brown, whereas the younger parts are green in color. Firespike flowers are the eye-catching feature of the plant, borne on long racemes that are 10-12 inches long, raising the flowers well-above the leaves. The racemes arise in branches of 3-5 from the tip of the stems.

The flowers are red and tubular with 5 distinct petals that are fused at the center. The needle-like style is visible very clearly as a thin long thread which is sometimes retained even after the flowers withers and dies. The flowers open from the base towards the tip of the raceme, the spent flowers forming beautiful seed capsules that are red and green in color.

These seed capsules are a distinguishing feature of Odontonema plants. Though it is not common, these plants also produce fruits that are about 2 cms long, having 4 flat seeds inside. Firespike flowers contain nectar and are very attractive to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

Another related species Odontonema Tubaeforme, also called Odontonema Strictum is very similar to Odontonema Cuspidatum, that there is some confusion about the naming and distinguishing characteristics between these two species.

Firespike plants are grown as ornamental plants in tropical weather, since they are sun-lovers. They also need regular watering and fertilization to promote blooming. These plants also have some medicinal uses in traditional herbal medicine, used in treatment of hypertension and for liver ailments.

Propagation is from seeds or from stem cuttings.

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