The genus Acalypha is in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae, that also includes pointsettia, caster oil plant, and crotons.  There are 450 species in the genus including perennial herbs, shrubs and small trees most of which grow in tropical and subtropical areas of North America and Africa with a smaller number in the  eastern Asia and the South Pacific islands.  Three species are grown in the US: chenille plant (A. hispida), copperleaf (A. wilkesiana), and beefsteak plant (A. godseffiana).  All are broadleaf evergreen shrubs that have large leaves and male and female catkins of flowers  that are produced on different plants. They are frost sensitive but can be brought indoors for the winter.    Chenille plant is usually grown in a container as a houseplant valued for its long catkins of bright red flowers while the other two species are more common as garden plants grown  for their colorful foliage as hedges or specimens in frost free areas.  All three species need bright light, consistent moisture in well-drained soil, and high humidity.  They  are rapid growers, can be propagated by cuttings, but may be susceptible to mealy bugs, white flies and spider mites.    The genus name, Acalypha, comes from akalephe, the ancient Greek name for nettle, and refers to the nettle-like appearance of the leaves.

Chenille Plant (A. hispida)

Also known as the Philippines Medusa, red hot cat’s tail, bristly copperleaf, monkey tail, and fox tail, chenille plant grows 5-15′ tall and is known for it soft arching branches carrying  20″ long catkins of  red female flowers with their feathery pistils.  The leaves are bright green to coppery and create an attractive foil for the flowers.

Outstanding Feature: Flowers

Size: 5-12′ H x 3-8′ W (smaller in container)

Use: Container, houseplant, hedge, specimen, shrub border

Photo Credit Wikipedia

Copperleaf (A. wilkesiana aka A. tricolor)

Growing up to 15′ tall, copperleaf has elliptical leaves that are  4-9″ long and  are coppery green often blotched with red, crimson purple or bronze.  Many cultivars have been developed that feature outstanding color combinations leading to its other common name, Jacob’s coat.

Outstanding Feature:  Foliage color

Size:10-15′ H x 10-15′ W

Uses: Hedge, specimen, in shrub border

Beefsteak Plant (A. godseffiana)

Growing 60-79″ tall, beefsteak plant has 6″  long ovate leaves that are dark green variegated with pink.  The cultivar ‘Heterophylla’ only grows 12″ tall and has green leaves with yellow edges.

Outstanding Feature:  Foliage

Size: 60-79″ H x 60-79″ W

Use: Hedge, specimen, shrub border

By Karen