The genus acalypha is one of the members of the Euphorbiaceae family, which is a treasure trove of ornamental plants for the flower gardener.
Chenille plant, monkey tail, red-hot cattail
Treat the chenille plant as an annual in all growing zones. In zones 10 or warmer, you may be able to grow this tropical outdoors throughout the year.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a tropical climate, you can expect your mature chenille plant to grow into a shrub that can get eight to fifteen feet tall. The plant will stay much more tame in containers, usually topping out at two to three feet.
Outdoors, plant chenille plant in full sun for vigorous growth. As a houseplant, place chenille plant in a south facing window where it will get a high level of light.
Chenille plant is ever blooming, provided you give it the warmth, light, and nutrients it requires.
Don’t try to grow chenille plant from seed you’ve saved yourself; as a dioecious plant, each plant will grow only male or female flowers, and the male flowers are inconspicuous. Buy nursery plants, or start with fresh cuttings from the previous season’s plants in the spring.
Chenille plant doesn’t try to deny its tropical origins, and it will pout in temperatures below 60 degrees F. A good way to decide when to plant chenille plant is to follow your tomato schedule, and plant your chenille plants outdoors when the weather is favorable for growing tomatoes.
You can plant chenille plants in a range of soils, including sand, clay, and loam, but this flower isn’t suited to xeriscapes or seaside gardens. Chenille plants can adapt to a range of soil pH values between 5.0 and 7.5. Keep your plants consistently moist as they establish, and maintain moderate moisture throughout the season.
As a fast growing plant, the chenille plant needs regular fertilizing to support its flowering and development. The standard every other week feeding that supports most showy annuals is not enough: feed your chenille plant a half-strength balanced flower fertilizer every week for the best results. If the plant starts to develop yellow leaves, supplement the fertilizer with a shovelful of manure that you cultivate into the soil.
Like many fast growers, the chenille plant can get ahead of itself, and start to look straggly as the summer progresses. Furthermore, faded brown tassels look unsightly. Cut the plant back to 12 inches, and you will be rewarded with double the flowers on a compact, multi-branched plant.
Spider mites on the prowl will make a meal of your chenille plant in July and August if conditions are dry or dusty. Mist the plant daily to create an inhospitable environment for these sucking pests. If whiteflies scatter during these misting sessions, use a hand vacuum to reduce the population of these disease-carrying insects.
A healthy chenille plant will be the star of your sunny window box or hanging basket. If you desire an upright specimen, you can train the chenille plant as a standard. Who wouldn’t marvel at the identification of a small tree bearing dozens of red wooly flowers?
- Alba: The seldom seen white variety of chenille plant
- A. pendula: A dwarf form of chenille plant, growing 3-7 inches tall.
- A. hispida: The common chenille plant species.