What's Blooming September 17: Hot Lips

  • Psychotria poeppigiana (Rubiaceae)
  • Hot lips (Coffee family)
  • Origin: Mexico to Argentina, along the Caribbean side

There are two native species of Psychotria in Sarasota County, nervosa and sulzneri, but neither is nearly as showy as this week’s plant, Psychotria poeppigiana, a medium-size shrub with fuzzy stems and lush green leaves. Hot lips, as it’s also known, has very small yellow flowers, but large, bright red bracts, which resemble a pair of made-up lips.  This is to attract the plant’s pollinators, curved- and straight-billed hummingbirds. The plant is named after Eduard Freidrich Poeppig, a German explorer and the first European botanist to travel the entire length of the Amazon River.

Most Psychotrias are understory shrubs, preferring the heavy humidity that the forest floor offers and protection from the blazing tropical sun. This is a relatively easy and quick-growing species for the home hobbyist; plants need to be protected from frost, but are relatively cold tolerant for such a tropical looking showpiece. The fruits look like small blueberries, an intense blue, but none of the plants we have here at the Gardens has ever fruited. We’re not sure if this is because the proper hummingbirds are not present, or if there is some environmental condition, either present or absent, which is inhibiting fruit set.  

Last year Selby Gardens was proud to offer Psychotria poeppigiana as a distribution plant for our members. One of the many perks of being a member of Selby Gardens is Member’s Day, where every Garden member can come out and pick two plants from a variety offered by our Horticulture Department. These plants are propagated from Selby stock, and include rare but easy to grow bromeliads, orchids, gesneriads, tropical shrubs, vines, and groundcovers. Often times, these are introductions of these species to the general public. Don’t miss another opportunity to get your hands on some rare, FREE plants! Become a member of Selby Gardens today. And don’t forget to check out the hot lips, both in the Tropical Conservatory, and on the trellis just outside of the conservatory.

Text by David Troxell