One of the plants I remember from my childhood is the cigar plant (Cuphea ignea). It gets its name for the orange, tubular flowers that are tipped with black and white which resemble ash. It is a tender perennial but often grown as an annual and it sets seed so can be grown from seed or from cuttings.
Cuphea are not common garden plants but they make the headlines now and then and are sometimes seen in garden centres as plant breeders come up with, and release, something new. Cupheas are in the Lythaceae (the same family as the common Lythrum, a hardy herbaceous plant). There are more than 200 species, from the tropical Americas and they vary a lot in flower shape. They have a tubular calyx on which the five petals are placed but in some the petals are tiny, in some there are five equal, bright petals and in yet others two petals are much larger than the others.
Cuphea cyanea (below) is another commercial variety that sometimes crops up and is a good container plant. The individual flowers are small but there are lots of them.
Cuphea blepharophylla is a relatively ‘normal-looking’ species with large (for a cuphea) flowers along the stems, usually red but sometimes purple. It is available as seed if you look hard enough (for example from Chiltern seeds) and is easy enough to grow if you treat it like nay other tender bedding plant. It flowers all summer, into autumn so is good value.
The plant that used to get a lot of attention is ‘Tiny Mice’ now superceded by similar plants. The flowers have two large petals and a purple, fuzzy face and look, to me, more like vampire bats than mice, but I guess that is not such a great selling point.
While these are all rather rangy plants, Cuphea hyssopifolia is a neat, freely branching shrublet that has tiny leaves and is constantly covered in small, starry flowers in shades of pink or white. Usually offered in late summer as a container plant it is a really cute plant and not at all difficult to grow.