02/15/2012 08:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sprout Home Plant Of The Week: Copperleaf

There are many occasions when a plant's leaf is more intriguing than its flower -- introducing the Copperleaf. The Acalypha Wilkesiana, or Copperleaf, is a tropical and sub-tropical plant whose main attraction is its crazy variegated and splotched leaves. They do have flowers, but the bloom is inconspicuous and easy to miss with the leaves overshadowing them in every sense of the word. You could compare the colored foliage explosion to that of the much beloved and more commonly known Coleus, but the Copperleaf's colored mottling has no visual rhyme or reason -- probably the main reason why I am so attracted to it. There are many varieties available to choose from with the color palette of the large-tooth leaves ranging from green with copper streaking to crimson markings or even red or cream margining. If the Copperleaf has not slapped you in the face as of yet, you might want to listen and give it a shout now.

Photo Courtesy of Sprout Home

The Copperleaf is hardy from zones 9-12 depending on variety. Make sure that you keep it above 55 degrees and take all measures to avoid frost. They love heat and can handle a wide variety of sun conditions from full sun to partial shade. Your plant will be happiest in full sun and will reward you by intensifying its leaf color if afforded the opportunity of more rays. If you are growing the Copperleaf outside, plant it in a protected location and avoid strong winds. They like to be potted with well drained fertile soil that is on the alkaline side. It can be damaged by drought, so keep the soil moist but not saturated, watering more sparingly during winter. If you let the soil go too dry, the plant will respond by dropping its leaves which will easily grow back if the plant did not go through too much stress. It can be susceptible to mealy bug, so keep your eyes out and treat at first sign of infection if it does occur.

Native to the South Pacific, the Copperleaf can be grown outdoors all year in areas like southern Florida as a shrub in mixed hedges or alone, providing color 24/7. In colder climates it makes a great container plant, growing rapidly in just one season. Use it outdoors as an annual to methodically take over the show when summer flowers have faded. When selecting container companions for the Copperleaf remember that it does grown erect and fast, so plant it towards the back of your planter if it is viewed from three or less sides. You can grow it as a houseplant as well, providing you give it the right conditions -- warmth, humidity and sun. Even though deadheading is not necessary it is helpful to prune the Copperleaf when using it as a houseplant by cutting off the tips of growing shoots to assure that it grows as bushy as it can. If planted outside as an evergreen shrub, you could rejuvenate them every couple of years by cutting them back to a foot or so. Have fun with the Copperleaf and forget about the flowers for a moment.