Native to Fiji in the South Pacific, the Acalypha — better known as Copperleaf — group of plants has the most colorful foliage I’ve ever seen. They can turn your garden into a spectacular, unending kaleidoscope of color.
Under perfect conditions, they will grow to 10 feet and just as wide, but they can be kept to any desired height with just a little trimming. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, mostly hidden by the colorful foliage. Copperleaf comes in a large variety of leaf shapes, ranging from large and oblong to round and fringed to slim and string-like. They also come in a broad range of colors. They can be pink, green, white, red, maroon or a combination of all of the above.
Copperleaf does well in well-drained, alkaline soil, and will thrive in full sun to partial shade. The leaf colors intensify when they receive the most light. Unlike more fragile plants that cannot survive a sun-to-shade transition, the Copperleaf is very resilient. It simply adapts to the sun’s changing positions throughout the year by changing its leaf colors. This makes it very interesting to observe over time.
Trimming Copperleaf should be done with a pair of hand trimmers, which eliminates only the unwanted growth. Never use power trimmers that are designed to box, ball and mushroom plants into a formal shape or hedge. I could never figure out why anyone would want that in a beach community anyway.
You can use Copperleaf in the garden in various ways. Use it as a hedge to give you a dense privacy screen with loads of color. It also can be utilized beautifully as a specimen plant, integrated into your garden and creating islands of color where needed. Having pots of Copperleaf on your lanai adds life to an existing living space without the mess of flowering plants that drop leaves and flowers and can stain surfaces. Whatever way you choose to use Copperleaf in your home or garden, it will be a striking and colorful addition.
One of my favorite Copperleaf plants is the Chenille, or red cattails (Acalypha hispida). This plant has long, fuzzy red hanging tails, and is a beautiful specimen in tree or shrub form. There is also a dwarf version called dwarf chenille (Acalypha reptans). This one makes a great ground cover where grass is hard to grow. It also is a beautiful in a hanging basket. Both plants take sun to partial shade; require average water; and blooms repeatedly.
Frost can do damage to Copperleaf, just as it can to so many other plants that are accustomed to growing in our usually mild South Florida winters. In the past, winters have been harsh on our tropical landscapes here and in other areas surrounding Naples, but my experience has been that almost all plants make a comeback, and most actually look better than ever.