Prettier Than its Namesake: How to Grow Bat-Faced Cuphea

Cuphea Ilavea 

Don’t you just love unusual plant names? There are species with names like turpentine bush, and of course there’s snake plant and Persian shield, too.

Here’s another good one for you: bat-faced cuphea.

As you might guess, this plant’s sweet little flowers resemble bat faces, with two perfectly colored upper petals that pop up like a bat’s ears, and other little petals that are arranged just so and look like a little bat face.

Cloe up of pink and purple bat-faced cuphea flower.

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Grown as an annual in much of the country, bat-faced cuphea is evergreen to the upper 20s°F and root hardy to the lower 20s°F. In some areas, it will die to the ground and – with heavy mulching – grow back from the roots.

This loose shrub is part of a family of about 115 species, some of which have equally interesting names, such as cigar plant.

The open-pollinated form of the plant displays flowers that are deep purple, white, and red, but newer cultivars are available in a variety of colors. More on those shortly.

While bees, butterflies, and birds may not be fans of the flying mammals, they do indeed favor the nectar of the eponymous plant.

This subshrub begins producing clusters of numerous flowers in late spring, and continues to bloom until frost. It’s native to Mexico and Central America.


Bat-faced cuphea can be propagated from seed or via stem cuttings, or you can transplant nursery starts into the garden.

From Seed

You can sow cuphea seeds directly in the garden when all danger of frost has passed, or you can start seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost date.

Scatter seeds on top of soil and sprinkle a light coating of milled peat over them. Don’t completely bury the seeds, as they need light to germinate.

From Cuttings

You can propagate cuphea from softwood cuttings. Softwood is a plant stem that is well-developed but not old and woody.

With clean and sharp shears, cut four- to six-inch stems from a healthy plant. Fill small pots with an all-purpose soil mix and insert and remove a pencil to create a hole for the cutting.

Remove the lower leaves from your cutting, dip the cut end into rooting hormone, and place in the hole.

Place a plastic dome or clear plastic bag over the pot or pots to create a little terrarium. Put it in bright, indirect light.

From Transplants

If you can find live plants, simply place the root ball into a hole about the same size as the container from which you are transplanting

How to Grow

Bat-faced cuphea prefers rich organic soil that drains well.

Close up of pink and purple bat-faced cuphea flowers growing in a landscaped garden.

In many parts of the country, this plant is grown in full sun. In hot zones such as Central Texas and the Arizona desert, however, it needs a little – or even more than a little – shade.

This plant is quite heat- and drought-tolerant, though it might be a bit happier and grow a bit larger with regular watering. It is prone to root rot, so don’t overwater it, especially in heavy clay soils.

Bat-faced cuphea flowers in bloom. All but two petals have been pinched off to showcase the center fo the flower which does look like a bat's face.

Feed in springtime with a slow-release fertilizer, or monthly throughout the growing season with an all-purpose fertilizer.

Growing Tips

For best results, provide plants with:

  • Organic soil.
  • Full sun or part shade, depending on where you live.
  • Regular water.
  • All-purpose fertilizer.

Pruning and Maintenance

Bat-faced cuphea is fairly low maintenance.

You can perform some light tip pruning or pinching if plants become too leggy. Additionally, you might want to do a late-winter shape-up, trimming the plant into a nice form.

There’s no need to deadhead the flowers of this plant.

Cultivars to Select

You can often find open-pollinated cuphea at garden centers.

As we mentioned above, there are several colorful cultivars available commercially. Be aware, however, that with some of these newer varieties, the bat’s face is less obvious in the flower’s form.

A close up square image of 'Sriracha Rose,' a red bat-faced cuphea cultivar pictured on a soft focus background.

‘Sriracha Rose’

 You can find packets of 15 seeds of ‘Sriracha Rose’ bat-faced cuphea, which features a rosy-red bloom available via Burpee. This compact plant has large petals with a papery consistency.

Other cultivars include ‘Tiny Mice,’ a small plant that produces flowers with two small red-orange petals.

‘Totally Templed’ has large, showy red flowers, and ‘Vienco” produces lavender flowers.

Managing Pests and Diseases

This plant has no serious insect or disease problems. It is deer-resistant.

Best Uses

Bat-faced cuphea makes a nice container plant, particularly if you need to overwinter it indoors.

Many gardeners enjoy this plant in hanging baskets, and some use it as a houseplant year ‘round. Don’t let your container dry out, and make sure the plant gets four hours of bright sunlight each day!

They’re suitable for borders, beds or path edging. They are particularly pretty in masses.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Annual in most of the U.S., tender perennial in warmer climatesFlower / Foliage Color:Red, black, or purple open-pollinated flowers; cultivars have various bloom colors; bright green foliage
Native to:Mexico, Central AmericaMaintenance:Minimal
Hardiness (USDA Zone):10-12Tolerance:Heat, drought
Bloom Time:Late spring until first frostSoil Type:Rich, organic
Exposure:Full sun to part shade, depending on how brutal your sun isSoil pH:6.1-7.8
Growth Rate:FastSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:24-36 inchesCompanion Planting:Impatiens, roses
Planting Depth:Transplants: same depth as container from which you are transplanting Seeds: on top of soil with light sprinkling of milled peatUses:Ornamental, specimen, bird gardens
Height:18-30 inchesAttracts:Hummingbirds, butterflies
Spread:12-18 inchesFamily:Lythraceae
Water Needs:Moist but not wet, drought-tolerant but does better with regular wateringGenus:Cuphea
Pests & Diseases:Resistant to most pests and diseases, can get stem rot from waterlogged soil.Species:ilavea

This Plant Will Totally Not Drive you Batty

Many of us probably wouldn’t list bats among our favorite animals. But perhaps we can be a little more forgiving of the sweet, low-maintenance flower that bears its name?

Red and purple petaled bat-face cuphea flowers growing in a lanscaped area in the American Southwest.

Those in the southern reaches of the country can count on this beauty to provide bright color year after year. Others might be happy with its use in the garden as an annual, or as a container plant.

Do you have any plants named for animals in your garden? Tempted to add bat-faced cuphea? Tell us about your experiences with this plant in the comments section below.

And for more information about growing flowers in your garden, check out these guides next:

Photo of author
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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