Acalypha Plant – There are two distinct groups of Acalypha. The more popular type bears long tassels of tiny flowers amongst its plain foliage and the other type has colorful foliage with insignificant blooms. All Acalyphas are woody shrubs which are quick growing but are unfortunately difficult to overwinter in the average room. The problem is the high humidity requirement which can be readily satisfied in the greenhouse or conservatory, but not in the home.
When the air is dry, leaf drop occurs and red spider mites flourish, so the usual practice is to take cuttings each year to provide a regular supply of young and vigorous plants.
Remove dead tassels from old plants and prune back to half size in late summer or early spring.
Acalypha hispida (Chenille plant or Red-hot Catstail) is a tall shrub which can reach a height of 6 ft or more. Chenille plant is dioecious, meaning that the staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers are on separate plants. The pistillate flowers are purple, bright red or crimson, and clustered in velvety catkins, 8-20 in long and an inch in diameter. They are dense and fluffy, like a cat’s tail, and they appear intermittently throughout the whole year as long as conditions are favorable. The long drooping spikes appear in late summer and fall – the usual flower color is red but an unusual white variety is available (Acalypha alba).
The bright foliage Acalypha is A. wilkesiana, popularly known as Copperleaf because of the coppery-red 5 in long leaves which cover the 4 ft shrub.
There are several fine varieties, for example Acalypha godseffiana (green edged with white) and mosaica (red, orange and copper).
Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Mosaica’
Secret of success
Temperature: Average to warm 65-80°F/18-27°C
Light: Bright light is essential for good leaf color. Protect plant from direct sun, which may cause brown scorch marks on the leaves.
Water: Keep the soil moist at all times, but take care not to overwater. Soggy soil will cause this plant to wilt. Use a pot with a drainage hole.
Acalypha hispida in hanging baskets
Air humidity: Moist air is vital. Surround the pot with damp peat or stand on a pebble tray. Mist leaves frequently.
Repotting: Repot in spring every year. Large plants should be top-dressed rather than repotted.
Propagation: Take 3 in (8 cm) stem tip cuttings in early spring and pot them in equal parts coarse sand and peat moss. Use a heat mat to maintain a steady 75°F/24°C.