How to Grow and Care for Chenille Plant

chenille plant

The Spruce / Autumn Wood 

Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida), a member of the spurge family, is named after the French word for "caterpillar." Its crimson accents provide textural interest to a sunny flower garden or a homegrown bouquet. This plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, which includes other ornamental varieties, like poinsettia, croton, and castor bean.

The foliage of the chenille plant is unremarkable, however, its fuzzy red flowers take center stage. The flower's anatomy consists of a simple row of pistils covered in downy catkins, providing visual and tactile enjoyment for all ages. The catkins vary in appearance, from plump fuzz balls to downward turning pendulums, and they can grow as big as 18 inches long. Native to tropical zones, chenille plant is commonly grown in containers and brought indoors for the winter in northern climates. It also makes a good year-round houseplant, and can be grown as a perennial in zones 9 and 10, where it is best planted in spring.

Common Name Chenille flower, monkey tail, red-hot cattail
Botanical Name Acalypha hispida
Family Euphorbiaceae
Plant Type Evergreen, perennial, annual in containers, houseplant
Mature Size In tropical climates: 8 to 15 feet tall; in containers: 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sand, clay, loam
Soil pH 5 to 7.5 (neutral)
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones 9-10, USA
Native Area The Philippines and New Guinea
closeup of the chenille plant
The Spruce / Autumn Wood 
chenille plant
The Spruce / Autumn Wood 
closeup of chenille plant
aimintang/Getty Images
Chenille plant with foliage
Jimmy Dunn/Getty Images

Chenille Plant Care

Lucky gardeners in zones 9 and 10 get to enjoy chenille plant as a perennial addition to their garden. Yet, outside of tropical climates, this plant is either incorporated into annual pots or grown as a houseplant indoors. Chenille plant can be used as a ground cover in perennial gardens, but make sure to prune it back regularly, as it can take over. This plant also stands out in any sunny window box or hanging basket. Combine it with complementary flowers that appreciate the same growing conditions, like begonias, petunias, or New Guinea impatiens. When grown inside, chenille plant will go through a period of dormancy (just like it would in the wild). During this time, don't expect flowers. Instead, wait patiently for its next spring bloom.

Light

Chenille plant grows best in full sun to partial shade. Outdoors, plant chenille in full sun for vigorous growth. As a houseplant, place it in a south-facing window where it will get ample year-round light.

Soil

Chenille plant grows in a range of soils, including sand, clay, and loam, but this flower isn’t suited to xeriscapes or seaside gardens, as it's only moderately drought-resistant and is not salt-tolerant. Chenille plant can adapt to a range of soil pH values between 5.0 and 7.5.

Water

Keep your plant consistently moist as it establishes itself, and then maintain moderate moisture throughout the season. It's a good idea to check the soil every two to three days and water your chenille plant before the soil dries out completely. While this plant likes its soil damp to the touch, overwatering to the point of soaking may kill it.

Temperature and Humidity

Chenille plant won't deny its tropical origin, and will pout in temperatures below 60 F. Follow your tomato's schedule when planting chenille outdoors, as this plant likes it just as warm as this nightshade variety.

Fertilizer

A fast-growing plant, 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. Instead, feed chenille plant a half-strength balanced flower fertilizer every week for best results. If the plant starts to develop yellow leaves, supplement the fertilizer with a shovelful of manure tilled into the soil.

Types of Chenille Plant

No matter what variety of chenille plant you favor, all of the female specimens will produce the charming catkins characteristic of the plant. Look for the following types at your full-service nursery:

  • A rarely seen white variety of chenille plant, Acalypha hispida "Alba" has white catkins and is also called "white cattail."
  • Acalypha hispida "White-Margined" produces creamy white catkins, as well as white margins on mature green leaves.
  • A dwarf form of chenille plant, Acalypha pendula grows only 3 to 7 inches tall and is best grown in containers.

Pruning

Like many fast growers, chenille plant can get ahead of itself and become straggly as the summer progresses. In the fall, when the faded brown tassels begin to look unsightly, cut the plant back to 12 inches above the soil. Next year, you will be rewarded with double the flowers on a compact, multi-branched plant. 

If you desire an upright specimen, train the chenille plant as a standard. To do so, first, trim all leaves and stems from the bottom 2 inches of your plant. Once a week, trim all the foliage growing on the lowest 2 inches of the plant until you have the stem length you desire. Support the "trunk" (the exposed stem) with a stake and small, soft ties. Over time, the stem will become tough and woody like a real trunk. You will need to continue to trim foliage away from the trunk weekly to prevent the plant from reverting back to its trailing form. 

Propagating Chenille Plant

Don’t try to grow chenille plant from a seed you’ve saved yourself. It won't work. As a dioecious plant, each plant will grow only male or female flowers, and the male flowers are unimpressive; only the females have the bright red catkins. Instead, buy nursery plants, or start in the spring with fresh cuttings from the previous season’s plants.

Here's how to grow chenille plant from cuttings:

  1. Gather your pruning shears, rooting hormone, potting containers, and plant starting mix that contains potting soil and perlite.

  2. Place the potting mixture into your containers and water it until moist.

  3. Cut 4- to 6-inch stems from the softwood part of your chenille plant when giving it a routine trim. Make sure each piece contains at least two leaves.

  4. Dip the bottom ends of the cuttings into the rooting hormone.

  5. Stick the ends of the cutting onto the soil and relocate the pots to an indoor area out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist.

  6. Once the plant has taken root, you can continue to grow it in its pot or relocate it to an outdoor area in your garden.

Potting and Repotting Chenille Plant

You can repot chenille plant in the spring when it has outgrown its container and before the leaves turn yellow. To do so, select either a plastic pot or a glazed clay pot that will not dry out too fast. Make sure your new pot has sufficient draining holes and add a few rocks to the bottom to ensure flow. Fill the bottom of the new container with a few inches of potting soil. Carefully turn the chenille plant upside down in its existing pot, keeping your hand at its base to loosen it from the pot. Transfer the contents of the old pot to the new pot, and then fill in around the edges with additional soil. Water the plant and return it to its original location. Make sure to always use high-quality potting soil and to step up the size of your pot.

Overwintering

When grown outdoors, chenille plant needs a few months of dormancy. Clip the entire plant back in the fall, leaving about 12 inches of growth, and mulch around the bottom. Potted plants also need to experience dormancy. It is recommended to prune a potted chenille plant, as well, and bring it indoors for a few months. Once temperatures begin to warm, water and relocate your plant back outside again.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Spider mites like to make a meal of chenille plant, especially in July and August when 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.

This plant harbors no diseases of major concern.

How to Get Chenille Plant to Bloom

Chenille plant can be everblooming, provided you give it the warmth, light, and nutrients it requires. Cold temperatures and lack of sunlight prevent blooming. If you're growing chenille in a container, bring it indoors when nights dip below 60 F, also keep indoor plants away from drafts. Additionally, make sure to cut spent flowers to encourage more blooms.

Common Problems With Chenille Plant

It is easy to let your chenille plant dry out, as this plant thrives only in moist soil. Prolonged dry spells can lead to death of the plant, so routinely test the soil by pressing your finger into it to gauge moisture; then water, as needed. That said, make sure the roots don't sit in standing water or your plant's leaves may turn yellow.

FAQ
  • How tall does chenille plant grow?

    When propagated outside, chenille plant can grow 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide in the right climate and growing conditions. Container plants, however, are regulated by pot size and remain smaller.

  • Is chenille plant monoecious or dioecious?

    Chenille plant is dioecious, meaning the male and female reproductive parts are located on separate plants. Only the females are cultivated as ornamentals, however, as the male plants are not too showy.

  • Does chenille plant have seeds?

    Yes, however, this plant is dioecious (a plant that has male and female organs on separate plants), meaning seeds will either grow male or female plants. The females are the ones with the showy flowers.