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Plant Profile: Joseph’s Coat (Alternanthera ficoidea)

Native to Mexico and South America, this herbaceous tender perennial is a member of the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes beets, spinach, celosia, and gomphrena. It grows 6-12″ tall and has erect to procumbent stems.  The obvate leaves taper at the base, are up to 1′ long, and are usually green blotched with a various colors including brown, copper, orange, purple, red, or yellow.  Globe-like clusters of  small, apetalous, white to cream colored flowers appear in axils of the leaves from fall into winter but are not ornamentally important.  Joseph’s coat has been popular since Victorian times for  its attractive foliage and because it can be clipped and shaped within 6″ of the ground for use as an edger and in elaborate planting designs.  Plants also do well indoors if given bright light, and consistently moist, well-drained soil. Many cultivars have been developed that vary most significantly in leaf color and shape and plant  height.  The genus name, Alternanthera, comes from the Latin word alternus meaning alternating and the Greek word anthos meaning flower but later used to refer to the pollen bearing part of the flower.  The term refers to the arrangement of the anthers in the flowers. The specific epithet, ficoidea, comes from Latin word  for fig tree, and means fig-like.

Type: Tender herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Inconspicuous, apetalous, white to cream colored flowers from fall into winter

Size: 6-12″ H x 6-18″ W

Light:Full sun, part shade

Soil: Organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 10-11

Care:Pinch to encourage bushiness

Pests and Diseases: None of significance

Propagation: Seed, stem cuttings

Companion Plants: Ageratum, portulaca, thumbelina zinnia

Outstanding Selections:

‘Brilliantissima’ (coppery red leaves with pink and purple blotches)

‘Gold Threads’ (golden needle-shaped leaves)

‘Rosea-nana’  (rosy pink leaves)

‘Red Threads’ (ruby-red to burgundy, needle-shaped leaves)

‘Snowball’ (green leaves splashed with white)

‘Tricolor’ (relatively large leaves of purple, variegated in pink)