Native to Central and northern South America, this short-lived tender perennial is also known as beefsteak plant, blood leaf and Joseph’s coat.  It is a member of the Amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes cock’s comb,  gomphrena, and sugar beet.  The plants grow 1-5′ tall and have red stems  with 3-6″ long,  oval leaves that have notched tips and are variegated with burgundy red, hot pink, yellow or white.  The inconspicuous  flowers are greenish white and should be removed in order to encourage the foliage.  Chicken gizzard plant is an excellent bedding plants, does well in containers and can be grown indoors. If taken indoors in the fall reduce water and place in bright light.  The genus name, Iresine, comes from the Greek word  εριος (erios), meaning woolly, and refers to the hair-like structures of the flowers.  The specific epithet, herbstii, honors Hermann Carl Gottlieb Herbst (c. 1830-1904) Director of the Rio de Janiero Botanic Garden.

Type: Tender herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Insignificant white flowers

Size: 1-5′ H x 1-2′ W

Light: Full sun for best color but protect from afternoon sun.

Soil: Humusy, consistently moist, well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 10-12

Care: Pinch tips to promote bushiness and remove flower buds to encourage foliage.

Pests and Diseases: Generally healthy but susceptible to damage by powdery mildew, aphids and  spider mites

Propagation: Cuttings (can be rooted in water)

Companion Plants: Bird of paradise, sweet potato vine, impatients

Outstanding Selections:

‘Brilliantissima’ (purplish-red leaves with pink veins)

‘Aureoreticulata’ (green leaves with yellow veins)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Karen