Wherever I wandered in Sicily there they were, the coral-spangled pony-tails of Russelia equisetiformis, cascading from the brims of elegant terracotta pots. I had admired this Central Amercian sub-shrub before, in the grounds of a monastery in Lebanon, where it tumbled over marigolds to reach the edge of a sandstone wall.
Commonly known as coral fountain or firecracker plant, this plant’s delicate appearance belies its toughness. Russelia equisetiformis tolerates dry winds, high temperatures and any kind of soil provided it is well drained. Regular watering keeps the foliage looking its best and guarantees a constant succession of new stems. Plants are evergreen and will resprout from the base if frozen, but to flower well warm sunshine is needed. The Latin name ‘equisetiformis‘ is a nod to the plant’s resemblance to a horse’s tail, but the plant’s fine, feathery form also reminds me of an asparagus fern. The contrast of the lime-green foliage with the tubular coral-orange flowers is almost festive.
Knowing now that Russelia equisetiformis will tolerate cold, albeit not damp cold, I am determined to track it down for our coastal garden next summer. I have just the spot for it, in sharply drained soil at the edge of a raised bed, where it can cascade to its heart’s content.