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Plant Profile: Copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana aka Acalypha tricolor)

Also known as Jacob’s coat, this broadleaf evergreen shrub is native to tropical and subtropical areas of  New Guinea, Malaya, Fiji and nearby South Pacific islands. It is a member of the spurge family, Euphorbaceae, that also includes poinsettia, croton, and caster oil plant.  Growing up to 15′ tall and the plant is highly branched and has slightly hairy stems and leaves.  The elliptical leaves are 4-9″ long, have coarsely toothed margins, and are coppery green often blotched with red, crimson purple or bronze.  Male and female catkins of small reddish flowers appear on different plants and are up to 8″ long with female catkins being shorter.  Plants give a tropical look to any garden and can be grown in a shrub border, or as a hedge or specimen in areas in frost free areas but should be grown as an annual or taken indoors in a container in USDA Hardiness zone 8 and colder.  Indoor plants need high humidity.  Many cultivars are available that vary most significantly in leaf color and form. The genus name, Acalypha, comes from akalephe, the ancient Greek name for nettle, and refers to the nettle-like appearance of the leaves.  The specific epithet, wilkesiana, honors  the American scientist and explorer Admiral Charles Wilkes (1801-1877).

Type: Broadleaf evergreen shrub

Outstanding Feature: Colorful foliage

Growth Rate: Rapid

Bloom: Male and female catkins of small reddish flowers on different plants in summer

Size: 10-15′ H x 10-15′ W

Light:Full sun to partial shade;  foliage color best in full sun.

Soil: Fertile to average, consistently moist, well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 9-11

Care: Pinch stem tips to encourage bushiness

Pests and Diseases: Mealy bugs, white flies, spider mites

Propagation: Cuttings with 2-3 nodes using bottom heat

Outstanding Selections:

‘Ceylon’ (coppery leaves with pink to shitish margins)

‘Haleakala’ (twisted bronze leaves with fringed margins)

‘Hoffman’s’ (narrow twisted leaves with ivory lobes)

”Kana Coast’ (large bright yellow leaves flecked and spotted with green)

‘Kilauea’ (dwarf form with small narrow green leaves with creamy white margins and blotched with red and copper-pink)

‘Macrophylla’ (wide russet leaves splashed with bronze-red and copper)

‘Marginata’ (green leaves  with crimson and other colored margins)

‘Musaica’ (green leaves with orange and red markings)

‘Obvata’ (bronzy green leaves with bright pink to orange margins)

‘Petticoat’ (large, ruffled, coppery leaves with earth-tone margins)