Florida Firespike is common in Central Florida gardens and in full winter bloom. Firespike is arguably one of Florida's more attractive invasive species, and it is spreading north. Alternatively described as Odontonema cuspidatum, O. tubiforme, O. tubaeforme (Bertol.) Kuntze, and O. strictum, individuals found in Florida are more than likely the same species, a native of Mexico. Read more about the taxonomy of Firespike below.
In its native range Firespike is pollinated by specialized hummingbirds. There are few hummingbirds in Central Florida in winter so butterflies take over. Above, a Giant Swallowtail feeds on Firespike.
Preferred Scientific Name
Odontonema cuspidatum (Nees) Kuntze
Preferred Common Name
Florida Firespike or Cardinal’s guard
Other Scientific Names
Odontonema strictum Sensu West Indian authors, non (Nees) Kuntze
Thyrsacanthus cuspidatus Nees
Odontonema tubaeforme (Bertol.) Kuntze
International Common Names
English: cardinal flower; cardinal’s crest; fire spike; mottled toothedthread; odontonema; red justicia; scarlet firespike; Florida Firespike
Local Common Names
Florida: Florida Firespike
Ecuador: lava botellas
Mexico: coral de jardín; flor de chupa miel; flor de chuparrosa
Paraguay: clavo de fuego
Saint Lucia: firespike
Summary of Invasiveness
O. cuspidatum is a shrub commonly planted as an ornamental for its attractive red tubular flowers. It has escaped from cultivation and can be found naturalized in disturbed areas as well as in relatively unaltered forests (Lorence et al., 1995; Space and Flynn, 2002; Meyer and Lavergne, 2004). O. cuspidatum represents a serious problem due to its ability to invade the understory of native forests. O. cuspidatum is included in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall , 2012), and it is also listed as invasive in Hawaii, French Polynesia, Samoa, the Galápagos Islands, and Cuba (Lorence et al., 1995; Meyer and Lavergne, 2004; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012; PIER, 2014). It is considered as potentially invasive in Puerto Rico (Rojas-Sandoval and Acevedo-Rodríguez, unpublished data).
Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
The family Acanthaceae includes about 221 genera and 4000 species widespread in both New and Old World Tropics (Scotland and Vollesen, 2000; Stevens, 2012). Species within this family are herbs or woody shrubs, lianas and trees. Member of the Acanthaceae may be recognized by their fruit: a few-seeded, explosively dehiscent capsule within which seeds are borne on hook-like structures called retinacula (the lignified derivatives of the funiculus) (McDade et al., 2008).
The genus Odontonema is native to the New World and includes about 20-30 species distributed in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean (Daniel, 1995). Several Odontonema species are commonly cultivated as ornamentals in nurseries, greenhouses, and gardens in tropical and subtropical regions (Daniel, 1995; Francis, 2005).
The USDA refers to the species Odontonema tubiforme as the invasive species occurring in Florida. Others disagree. Francis (2005) lists Odontonema tubiforme (Bertol.) Kuntze as a synonym of O. cuspidatum, and states that some authors propose separating O. cuspidatum and O. tubiforme into individual species or using only the name O. tubiforme. The USDA also lists Odontonema cuspidatum (Nees) Kuntze as occurring in Florida.
The ITIS database, however, says that I. tubiforme is an orthographic variant (misspelling) of the accepted species Odontonema tubaeforme (Bertol.) Kuntze. Odontonema strictum has been listed by various authorities as a synonym of both O. cuspidatum and O. tubaeforme. Physically the differences in individual plants appear in the flowers with some being much more waxy and appearing to have waxy bracts, elaborately structured while other individual's flowers are composed primarily of tubular red inflorescence.
O. cuspidatum is native to Mexico (Daniel, 1995; USDA-ARS, 2014). It has been widely cultivated as an ornamental and can now be found naturalized in the southern United States (Florida), Central and South America, West Indies and several islands in the Pacific Ocean (see distribution table for details, Daniel 1995, 2001, 2005; PIER, 2014; USDA-ARS, 2014).
History of Introduction and Spread
According to Meyer and Lavergne (2004), O. cuspidatum (under the name O. strictum) was first collected in 1927 in Tahiti (French Polynesia) and in 1937 in Hawaii. Wagner et al. (1990) reported this species for Hawaii (under the name O. strictum) as “sometimes observed in disturbed areas” and concluded that the species “does not appear to be naturalized”. In the website treatment for the flora of Hawaii, Wagner et al. (2005) correct the name of the Hawaiian plants to O. cuspidatum and report the species as naturalized. In the West Indies, the occurrence of O. cuspidatum was reported as early as 1900 for Cuba (Urban, 1901). In 1925, Britton and Wilson reported O. cuspidatum as a strictly garden plant. By 1997, O. cuspidatum was reported as escaped (Liogier, 1997) in Puerto Rico, and in 1999 Acevedo-Rodríguez and Axelrod reported it as an “aggressive exotic, very common in the understory of secondary forests and plantations” for areas of the Rio Abajo Forest Reserve. Currently, O. cuspidatum is widespread along roadsides and understory of secondary forest in numerous localities across Puerto Rico and in areas of the El Yunque National Forest (Acevedo- Rodríguez unpublished data). In the Dominican Republic O. cuspidatum is known to occur since 1921 as a roadside plant (US Herbarium Collection). The species is considered as escaped in the most recent flora of Hispaniola (Liogier, 1995). In summary, these sources indicate that O. cuspidatum has the capacity of becoming naturalized and abundant in a relatively short period of time after being introduced as a garden plant.
Risks of Introduction to New Habitat
The risk of introduction of O cuspidatum is high. It has been widely cultivated as an ornamental in tropical and subtropical regions of the world where it has escaped and become naturalized in natural habitats (Daniel, 1995; Lorence et al., 1995; Meyer and Lavergne 2004; Liogier, 1995, 1997). The ability of this species to tolerate shaded conditions and spread vegetatively by root-suckers means that it has a high potential to colonize new areas and spread much further than it has to date (Meyer and Lavergne, 2004).
O. cuspidatum can be found naturalized in wet open areas, secondary forests, forest edges, along roadsides, lowland rainforests, montane forests, pine-oak forests, and cloud forests from sea level to 1950 m (Lorence et al., 1995; Space and Flynn, 2002; Meyer and Lavergne, 2004; PIER, 2014). Because it is shade tolerant, it is able to colonize the understory of both disturbed and mature forests (Space and Flynn, 2002; Meyer and Lavergne, 2004).
Biology and Ecology
The chromosome number for the species O. cuspidatum is unknown. However, for the genus Odontonema the chromosome number reported is n=21 (Daniel, 1995).
Flowers in O. cuspidatum are heterostylous and require specialized pollinators to set fruits. Within its native distribution range, it is visited and possibly pollinated by hummingbirds (Daniel, 1995).
Physiology and Phenology
In warm and moist climates, O. cuspidatum has been reported flowering and fruiting throughout the year (Daniel, 1995), but in temperate climates it flowers in the autumn (Watkins, 1975; Francis, 2005).
O. cuspidatum grows best on fertile and moderately fertile soils, with neutral pH, that are continually moist. It is shade tolerant but does not tolerate salty soils or freezing conditions and plants generally die if the ground is frozen (Watkins, 1975; Francis, 2005). O. cuspidatum grows in wet, montane, rain, and cloud forests from sea level to 1950 m in elevation (Daniel, 1995).
Temperature Tolerance and Means of Dispersal
O. cuspidatum's absolute low temperature tolerance is 30.2° F (-1° C), meaning its gradual migration north along the Florida peninsula will continue with climate change. Rarely does the ground in Florida chill below freezing, where O. cuspidatum's root-suckers spread once seeds are dispersed.
O. cuspidatum spreads by seeds and vegetatively by stem segments or root-suckers. Seeds are produced in capsules that fall off before drying, liberating the seeds (Francis, 2005). In Puerto Rico, although O. cuspidatum is common, plants produce few viable seeds and most of the stands of this species have originated from abandoned gardens or stem segments and/or roots that have been transported by streams or dumped in the woods with garden disposals. Once established, O. cuspidatum spreads mostly by root suckers. The stems also layer (root) easily when they become prostrate (Francis, 2005).
More Reading on Florida Firespike
Acevedo-Rodriguez P; Axelrod FS, 1999. Annotated checklist for the tracheophytes of Río Abajo Forest Reserve, Puerto Rico. Caribbean Journal of Science, 35(3/4):265-285.
Acevedo-Rodríguez P; Strong MT, 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies. Smithsonian Contributions to Botany, 98:1192 pp. Washington DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution. http://botany.si.edu/Antilles/WestIndies/catalog.htm
Baker CA; Webster CG; Adkins S, 2012. Odontonema cuspidatum and Psychotria punctata, two new hosts of Cucumber mosaic virus in the United States. Plant Disease, 96(9):1384. http://apsjournals.apsnet.org/loi/pdis
Britton NL; Wilson P, 1925. Botany of Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Scientific Survey of Porto Rico & Virgin Islands, Volume 6
Brunken U; Schmidt M; Dressler S; Janssen T; Thiombiano A; Zizka G, 2008. West African plants - A Photo Guide. Frankfurt/Main, Germany: Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg. www.westafricanplants.senckenberg.de
Chong KY; Tan HTW; Corlett RT, 2009. A checklist of the total vascular plant flora of Singapore: native, naturalised and cultivated species., Singapore: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore, 273 pp.
Daniel TF, 1995. Revision of Odontonema (Acanthaceae) in Mexico. Contributions of the University of Michigan Herbarium, 20:147-171.
Daniel TF, 2001. Catalog of Acanthaceae in El Salvador. Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium, 23:115-137.
Daniel TF, 2005. Catalog of Honduran Acanthaceae with taxonomic and phytogeographic notes. Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium, 24:51-108.
Daniel TF, 2010. Catalog of Guatemalan Acanthaceae: taxonomy, ecology, and conservation. Proceedings of the California Academy of Science, 61:289-377.
Daniel TF; McDade LA, 1995. Additions to the Acanthaceae of Panama. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 82:542-548.
Florence J; Chevillotte H; Ollier C; Meyer J-Y, 2013. Base de données botaniques Nadeaud de l'Herbier de la Polynésie Française (PAP) (Botanical database of the Nadeaud Herbarium of French Polynesia). http://www.herbier-tahiti.pf
Francis JK, 2005. Odontonema cuspidatum (Nees) Kuntze. Wildland Shrubs of the United States and its Territories: Thamnic Descriptions. General Technical Report IITF-WB-1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry and Shrub Sciences Laboratory.
Graveson R, 2012. The Plants of Saint Lucia (in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean). The Plants of Saint Lucia (in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean). http://www.saintlucianplants.com
Guézou A; Trueman M; Buddenhagen E; Chamorro S; Guerrero AM; Pozo P; Atkinson R, 2010. An extensive Alien Plan Inventory from the Inhabited Areas of Galapagos. Plos One, 5(4):e10276.
INBio, 2014. PLANTAE Database., Costa Rica: Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad de Costa Rica. http://www.inbio.ac.cr/bims/PLANTAE.html
Jogdand VR; Dhabe AS, 2013. Odontonema cuspidatum (Nees) Kuntze (Acanthaceae): Addition to exotic record for Maharashtra. BIOINFOLET-A Quarterly Journal of Life Sciences, 10:1098-1099.
Jørgensen PM; León-Yànez S, 1999. Catalogue of the vascular plants of Ecuador. Monogr. Syst. Bot. Missouri Bot. Gard, 75. i-viii, 1-1182.
Liogier AH, 1995. La Flora de La Española. VII ([English title not available]). San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic: Ediciones de la UCE, 491 pp.
Liogier HA, 1997. Descriptive flora of Puerto Rico and adjacent Islands: Spermatophyta-Dicotyledoneae Vol. 5: Acanthaceae to Compositae. Puerto Rico: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.
Lorence DH; Flynn TW; Wagner WL, 1995. Contributions to the flora of Hawai'i. III. New additions, range extensions, and rediscoveries of flowering plants. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers [Records of the Hawaii biological survey for 1994. Part 1: articles.], No. 41:19-58.
McDade LA; Daniel TF; Kiel CA, 2008. Toward a comprehensive understanding of phylogenetic relationships among lineages of Acanthaceae S.L. (Lamiales). American Journal of Botany, 95(9):1136-1152. http://www.amjbot.org/
Meyer JY; Lavergne C, 2004. Beautés fatales: Acanthaceae species as invasive alien plants on tropical Indo-Pacific islands. Diversity and Distributions, 10(5/6):333-347.
Oviedo Prieto R; Herrera Oliver P; Caluff MG, et al. , 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y pontencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011.) Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantad del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba, 6(Special Issue 1):24-96.
PIER, 2014. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk. Honolulu, USA: HEAR, University of Hawaii. http://www.hear.org/pier/index.html
PROTA, 2014. PROTA4U web database. Grubben GJH, Denton OA, eds. Wageningen, Netherlands: Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp
Randall RP, 2012. A Global Compendium of Weeds. Perth, Australia: Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, 1124 pp.
Scotland RW; Vollesen K, 2000. Classification of Acanthaceae. Kew Bulletin, 55:513-589.
Space JC; Flynn T, 2000. Observations on invasive plant species in American Samoa. USDA Forest Service, Honolulu, 51.
Space JC; Flynn T, 2002a. Report to the Government of Samoa on invasive plant species of environmental concern. Honolulu, USA: USDA Forest Service, 83 pp.
Stevens PF, 2012. Angiosperm Phylogeny
Urban I, 1901. Symbolae Antillanae. Volumen II. Lipsiae, Germany: Fratres Borntraeger, 860 pp.
USDA-ARS, 2014. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysearch.aspx
Vander VN, 2003. The vascular plants of Majuro Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin, 503:1-141.
Wagner WL; Herbst DR; Lorence DH, 2005. Flora of the Hawaiian Islands. Flora of the Hawaiian Islands. Smithsonian Institution, unpaginated.
Wagner WL; Herbst DR; Sohmer SH, 1990. Manual of Flowering Plants of Hawaii. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Special Publication 83. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: University of Hawaii.
Watkins JV, 1975. Florida landscape plants, native and exotic. Gainesville, FL., USA: The University Presses of Florida, 420 pp.
Wunderlin RP; Hansen BF, 2008. Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. Florida, USA: University of South Florida. http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu/
Zuloaga FO; Morrone O; Belgrano MJ, 2008. Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares del Cono Sur: (Argentina, Sur de Brasil, Chile, Paraguay y Uruguay) ([English title not available])., USA: Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 3348 pp.
Acevedo-Rodríguez P, Strong M T, 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies. Washington, DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution. 1192 pp.
Anon, 1999. Catalogue of the vascular plants of Ecuador. [ed. by Jørgensen P M, León-Yànez S]. Missouri, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden. viii + 1182 pp.
Brunken U, Schmidt M, Dressler S, Janssen T, Thiombiano A, Zizka G, 2008. West African plants - A Photo Guide., Frankfurt/Main, Germany: Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg. http://www.westafricanplants.senckenberg.de
CABI, Undated. Compendium record. Wallingford, UK: CABI
CABI, Undated a. CABI Compendium: Status inferred from regional distribution. Wallingford, UK: CABI
Chong KY, Tan HTW, Corlett RT, 2009. A checklist of the total vascular plant flora of Singapore: native, naturalised and cultivated species., Singapore, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore. 273 pp.
Daniel T F, 2001. Catalog of Acanthaceae in El Salvador. Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium. 115-137.
Daniel T F, 2005. Catalog of Honduran Acanthaceae with taxonomic and phytogeographic notes. Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium. 51-108.
Daniel TF, McDade LA, 1995. Additions to the Acanthaceae of Panama. In: Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 82 542-548.
Florence J, Chevillotte H, Ollier C, Meyer J-Y, 2013. Nadeaud botanical database of the Herbarium of French Polynesia. (Base de données botaniques Nadeaud de l'Herbier de la Polynésie Française (PAP))., https://nadeaud.ilm.pf/
Graveson R, 2012. The Plants of Saint Lucia (in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean)., http://www.saintlucianplants.com
Guézou A, Trueman M, Buddenhagen C E, Chamorro S, Mireya Guerrero A, Pozo P, Atkinson R, 2010. An extensive alien plant inventory from the inhabited areas of Galapagos. PLoS ONE. e10276.
INBio, 2014. PLANTAE Database., Costa Rica: Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad de Costa Rica. http://www.inbio.ac.cr/bims/PLANTAE.html
Jogdand VR, Dhabe AS, 2013. Odontonema cuspidatum (Nees) Kuntze (Acanthaceae): Addition to exotic record for Maharashtra. In: BIOINFOLET-A Quarterly Journal of Life Sciences, 10 1098-1099.
Oviedo Prieto R, Herrera Oliver P, Caluff M G, et al, 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y potencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011). Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantas del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba. 6 (Special Issue No. 1), 22-96.
PIER, 2014. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk., Honolulu, USA: HEAR, University of Hawaii. http://www.hear.org/pier/index.html
Space JC, Flynn T, 2000. Observations on invasive plant species in American Samoa. In: USDA Forest Service, Honolulu, USDA Forest Service. 51.
USDA-ARS, 2014. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysimple.aspx
Vander VN, 2003. The vascular plants of Majuro Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands. In: Atoll Research Bulletin, 503 1-141.
Wunderlin RP, Hansen BF, 2008. Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants., Florida, USA: University of South Florida. http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu/
Zuloaga FO, Morrone O, Belgrano MJ, 2008. [English title not available]. (Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares del Cono Sur: (Argentina, Sur de Brasil, Chile, Paraguay y Uruguay))., USA: Missouri Botanical Garden Press. 3348 pp.