Fire has always beguiled and fascinated people. It mesmerizes as the flames flicker, changing shape and color. Gardeners take inspiration from natural elements such as a fire’s brilliant color and hues. They look for plants that can recreate the images of fire in their gardens.
Red, yellow, and orange are colors that remind us of fire. But sometimes, flames can throw up purple, blue, or green sparks. When looking for plants that look like fire, the ones that conform to these colors will help to create the image the gardener is looking for.
Along with flames, there is ash and blackened burned fuel. This allows the gardener to include plants with grey or grey-white colors when creating a fire garden. Examples are Stachys or Santolina. Black is not a common color in plants, but there are some that can be used to depict the charcoal and remains of a fire that has passed.
Black and grey provide a perfect foil for the striking colors of plants that resemble flames. Part of balancing the garden palette is including these contrasts. The juxtaposition of flames and ash can be further enhanced using plants with varying textures and shapes.
1. Flame Lily
Flame Lilies come from the genus Gloriosa and the family Colchicaceae. There are twelve different species of Flame Lily. They are also known as Fire Lilies, Glory Lilies, and climbing Lilies. They are indigenous to Southern Africa and Asia but have become naturalized in Australia and many Pacific islands.
Flame Lilies have dramatic flowers that are intense orange-red and yellow. As the flowers mature, the orange-red colors may change to purple-red just as flames alter with the heat of the fire. The six petals of the flowers curve upwards, enhancing the resemblance to flames and giving the plant its common name of Flame or Fire Lilies.
Flame Lilies are herbaceous perennials that usually climb over other plants or structures. They have leaf tendrils that allow them to attach themselves securely. They can reach up to ten feet long, but the stems are weak and rely on other plants for support. The plant has tubers or rhizomes, which may be divided to propagate new plants.
Flame Lilies thrive in many different habitats. They grow in tropical forests, woodlands, thickets, grasslands, coastal plains, and sand dunes. They do not need nutrient-rich soil and have become invasive plants on many of Australia’s coastal dunes. Flame Lilies can become dormant in periods of drought and revive after rainfall.
Flame Lilies contain colchicine in toxic levels for people and animals. Colchicine is found in all parts of the plant.
2. Red Hot Poker
Red Hot Pokers are from the genus Kniphofia and the family Asphodelaceae. They are also known as Torch Lilies, Poker Plants, and Tritoma. They grow natively in various parts of Africa and have become a popular plant with gardeners wishing to establish a fire theme in their garden.
The name Red Hot Poker comes from the tubular flower clusters, which are red, yellow, and orange. The flowers are commonly bi-colored, enhancing the fire imagery. The Common Marsh Red Hot Poker has burgundy flowers that become yellow in summer and fall. The flowers bloom at the end of tall spikes rising well above the foliage.
The foliage of Red Hot Pokers may consist of thick strap-like leaves or narrow grass-type leaves. They grow from thick underground rhizomes and fleshy roots. Kniphofia plants are popular with sunbirds, sugar birds, bees, and other insects that drink the nectar.
They grow in various soils depending on the species. Some prefer rich soil, others survive well in sandy, rocky soil, and yet others grow in areas that are flooded during summer rains. They prefer full sun but may grow in partial shade. They are usually frost-resistant and do not like to be disturbed by transplanting.
3. Blanket Flowers
Blanket Flowers are from the genus Gaillardia and the family Asteraceae (the daisy family). They grow indigenously in North and South America and get their common name as the flower resembles the bright-colored blankets made by Native Americans. Gaillardias grow in dense colonies, making them look like a blanket covering the ground.
Blanket flowers have many petals, which may be single or double. They are usually two-toned with a wine red, fire-engine red, dusky pink, or orange as a central color. The petal tips are yellow or orange. These colors make it ideal for a fire-themed garden.
Gaillardias have hairy greyish-green leaves, and they grow in dense clumps. They may be twelve to thirty-six inches tall. They attract butterflies, bees, and many pollinating insects to gardens. They grow easily from seed and flower repeatedly through the blooming season.
Blanket flowers grow in well-drained soil and do not cope with saturated ground. They do best in full sun, and mature plants are drought-tolerant. They are popular with gardeners as they are easy to grow and add vibrant color to the garden.
4. Croton Plants
Croton plants (Codiaeum variegatum) are perennial shrubs from the Euphorbia family. They grow naturally in tropical regions of Asia and the western Pacific islands. They are also sometimes known as rushfoils. Croton plants may grow as bushy shrubs or small trees that can reach ten feet tall.
Croton plants have extravagantly colored foliage reminiscent of flames. The large thick leathery leaves may be up to twelve inches long. The leaves are variegated with colors including green, white, red, orange, yellow, pink, and purple.
As the leaf matures, the colors may alter, creating a fascinating feature in the garden. Each plant can have multiple differently colored leaves at one time. Croton leaves have distinct midribs and veins. The midribs and veins may be highlighted by non-green pigment, or the color patterns may occur as random splotches on the leaf.
Crotons are often indoor plants, but they can be grown outdoors in the right climate. They are tropical plants, so they do best in a warm, humid environment. Rich, moist soil with good drainage provides the ideal medium for growing crotons. They grow naturally under the forest canopy and, as a result, grow optimally in indirect light or shade.
Related: 5 Croton Plant Benefits for Health and Aesthetics
5. Canna Lilies
Cannas or Canna Lilies (Cannaceae) are not true lilies. They belong to the same order of plants as ginger and bananas. Cannas are indigenous to tropical America but have become naturalized in many countries worldwide. Their popularity has resulted in the development of many cultivars that can survive temperate climates.
Cannas have large leaves similar to Bird of Paradise plants and bananas. The leaves may be green, variegated green, variegated green and yellow, or red, and some cultivars have purplish-black leaves. Canna foliage can be used to add to the fire theme in a garden. If the gardener wishes to add black foliage to represent charcoal, black-leaved cannas are a perfect choice.
Canna flowers are generally red, orange, yellow, or a combination of these colors. They look like bright flames above the backdrop of their foliage. The flowers grow on spikes and are popular with bats, hummingbirds, sunbirds, and bees. Other insects, such as butterflies, are attracted to the brightly colored flowers.
Cannas are large plants, reaching six to ten feet tall. The cultivar and growing conditions affect the ultimate height of the plant. Cannas grow from starchy underground rhizomes, which are used by some people for food.
They grow in rich or sandy soil with good drainage. Cannas are sensitive to frost and do not generally survive freezing winters. High winds tear their leaves, so they are best planted in a sheltered region of the garden.