Grow bat face flowers from bedding plants or from seeds

April 18, 2018

Bats are not blind; they can see as well as humans. Bats have a built-in sonar system that lets them fly at breakneck speed through total darkness. When a bat dives at you, it's just hunting for insects, not your hair. Sometimes just walking will disturb insects that attract bats toward innocent humans, but even then the bats can control precisely where they are going. Bats eat insects, and they are a good addition to the garden.

There's a most unusual flower, native to Central America and Mexico, that has small, dark-purple and scarlet-red blooms that look like they have a face – the face of a bat. These funny flowers are set off by their intense bright-green leaves. The masses of flowers, rich in nectar, bring butterflies, hummingbirds, and other beneficial pollinators to your garden.

Bat Face Cuphea (Cuphea llavea) grows to about 18 to 24 inches high and spreads 12 to 18 inches across. It grows in a rounded, bushy form with leaves that stay green and fresh all summer. The pointy, dark-green leaves have a leathery or sandpapery feel to them. While this semitropical flower is only hardy in USDA zone 10 and above, it is often grown as a garden annual or an indoor houseplant.

The simplest way to grow bat face flowers is to buy bedding plants in late spring. Or you can plant seeds indoors, and set the plants out when you set out other tender transplants, after the ground has warmed up and all danger of frost is past. The seeds need light to germinate, so gently press them into the soil without burying them. Put these plants in full sun in rich, well-drained soil. To add organic matter to the flowerbed, dig in compost before planting.

In spite of their exotic looks, these plants are actually easy to grow. Water often while the plants are getting settled into the garden. After a few weeks, bat face flowers get along perfectly well with just occasional watering during hot spells or drought. You can feed the flowers with a weak, all-purpose liquid fertilizer throughout the summer. To encourage side shoots and bushier growth, pinch the tips of the stems back when the plants are eight to 10 inches tall.

There are some named varieties of bat face flowers, such as the bright-red blooming Diablo or the hot-pink Tango plant that gets about a foot high and wide. These make fascinating plants for hanging baskets, where you can get a close-up view of the intriguing flowers. Mix in red impatiens for a show-stopping pot. You can take short softwood cuttings, and root them in late spring or early summer.

For an interesting and easy-to-grow flower, try Bat Face Cuphea (Cuphea llavea). It flowers often, is carefree and like every bat, never gets in your hair.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter