Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia): Origin, Cultivation, Lifespan & Varieties

Mexican Heather, also known as False Heather or Elfin Herb (Cuphea hyssopifolia), is a small evergreen shrub native to Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. It is a member of the Lythraceae family and is commonly used as an ornamental plant, grown in orchards and gardens. This plant also grows on the banks of streams, associated with disturbed vegetation of tropical deciduous and sub-deciduous forests, as well as mountain mesophilic forest.

This plant grows to about 2 feet tall with a bushy growth habit. It has small, narrow, and dark green leaves that resemble those of the herb hyssop (hence the name Cuphea hyssopifolia). The main attraction of Mexican Heather is its blooms of small, trumpet-shaped flowers. These flowers can be purple, lavender, white and even pink. They bloom continuously throughout the summer and fall. The flowers attract pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

Mexican Heather prefers well-drained soil and full sun but can tolerate partial shade. It is a hardy plant that can withstand high summer heat and some drought, although it grows best with regular moisture. It is a perennial in USDA zones 9 and higher but is generally grown as an annual in cooler climates though it does not tolerate freezing temperatures. 

Mexican Heather is relatively low maintenance and requires little pruning. It can be propagated by stem cuttings, layering, division or seeds. These bushes look lovely as edging or as a small hedge in tropical gardens, around the corners of paving and sidewalks or as a filler plant in beds and borders with other foliage and flowers.

A Mexican heather lifespan can be quite long since these plants are able to survive the hottest summers and bounce back from most winter frosts. Frost can damage Mexican heather, but it usually recovers and grows again in the spring.

Varieties of Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)

  • Cuphea hyssopifolia ‘Alba’: Has white flowers.
  • Cuphea hyssopifolia ‘Lavender’: Has lavender-colored flowers.
  • Cuphea hyssopifolia ‘Purple’: Has purple flowers.
  • Cuphea hyssopifolia ‘Pink’: This features pink flowers.
  • Cuphea hyssopifolia ‘White’: This variety has white flowers.
  • Cuphea hyssopifolia ‘Variegata’: This variety has variegated foliage.

Growing Mexican Heather

Provide frost protection. Help your Mexican heather withstand cold weather by adding a 6-inch layer of mulch around the plant’s base in the fall. This will help protect the roots if the ground freezes.

Learn pruning techniques. Mexican heather doesn’t need much pruning, but if your plant starts to look unkempt, you can shear back the plant by a third of its height to encourage tighter, more compact growth.

Add fertilizer and mulch. Mexican heather bushes can benefit greatly from high-quality, organic fertilizers. Also, mulch can help the plant retain moisture in the soil and prevent weed growth.

Know how to grow in containers. These plants can also be grown in containers if you’re an indoor gardener. Use a pot or container with drainage holes at the bottom, move your Mexican heather plant from its pot to the container (cut the roots) and placer the container in shade for two weeks before you move it inside. You can move the plant outside in springtime after the last frost.

Watch out for pests and diseases. Mexican heather bushes aren’t susceptible to many insects, luckily, although flea beetles can be a problem. Monitor your plants regularly and examine leaves and stems for holes. Also, watch out for spider mite webs underneath the leaves of your plant.