Foliage Plant: Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Musaica’ Beefsteak Plant

This species is native to the South Sea Islands, where it grows to a height of approximately 2.5 m (8 ft). The leaves are a lovely coppery-green, in the botanical species mottled with red and crimson. The flowers are insignificant. This species is not often cultivated in the home. More widely grown is the related chenille plant — Acalypha hispida — an evergreen shrub with long (up to 50 cm [20 in]), drooping, red (occasionally creamy), tassel-like spikes of flowers.

Also grown indoors are several lovely cultivars, most commonly ‘Musaica’ shown in the ** illustration. Others include ‘Marginata’ with large, olive-brown leaves edged with pink; ‘Miltoniana’ with drooping green leaves edged with white; ‘Obovata’ with obo-vate leaves coloured olive edged with orange in the juvenile stage, later copper edged with crimson; and ‘Godseffiana’ with green leaves edged with cream.

It is hard to understand why this species tends to be bypassed by European nurseries. Anyone who has been to the tropics has seen Acalypha wilkesiana planted in public parks as well as being used as a potted plant; there it belongs to the basic assortment. If a home is sufficiently warm and light then there is no need to fear failure. The plant does not need a winter rest period and will do well if its basic requirements are satisfied.

The compost should be as nourishing as possible, a mixture of loam, compost, rotted turves, sand and peat would be ideal. Feed should be applied weekly during the entire growth period, for the plant needs a rich diet. It will also benefit from frequent syringing. It stands up well to pruning so there is no need to fear that it will get out of hand. Acalypha is often attacked by white fly and so it is recommended to take the proper preventive measures.

Propagation is by tip cuttings inserted in a mixture of peat and sand in a warm propagator.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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