Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida), a member of the spurge family, is named after the French word for caterpillar. Its long and fuzzy crimson blooms 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 up to 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 USDA cold hardiness zones 10 and 11, where it is best planted in spring.
|Common Name||Chenille flower, monkey tail, red-hot cattail|
|Botanical Name||Acalypha hispida|
|Plant Type||Evergreen perennial, annual in containers, houseplant|
|Mature Size||In tropical climates up to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide; much smaller when grown in containers and indoors|
|Sun Exposure||Full to partial sun|
|Soil Type||Sand, clay, loam|
|Soil p||Slightly acidic (6.0) to neutral (7.5)|
|Bloom Time||Any time of year when temperature is warm enough|
|Native Area||The Philippines and New Guinea|
Chenille Plant Care
Lucky gardeners in zones 10 and 11 get to enjoy chenille plant as a perennial addition to their gardens. Outside of tropical climates, this plant is grown indoors or as an annual outdoors in hanging baskets or container gardeners. Combine it with complementary annual plants with the same growing conditions, like begonias, petunias, or New Guinea impatiens. Make make sure to prune it back regularly because it grows quickly.
When grown indoors, 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.
The chenille plant is dioecious, which means that plants are gender specific. The flowers on male plants are nondescript, so the plants available for sale at nurseries and garden centers are female.
Chenille plant grows best in full sun to partial shade but avoid planting it outdoors where it receives direct sun in the late afternoon. As a houseplant, grow it in a greenhouse or place it near a south-facing window where it will receive ample year-round light.
Chenille plant grows in a range of soils, including sand, clay, and loam, but this plant isn’t suited to xeriscapes or seaside gardens because it's only moderately drought-resistant and is not salt-tolerant. Chenille plant can adapt to soil pH values between 6.0 to 7.5.
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 apply water before the soil dries out completely. While this plant likes soil damp to the touch, overwatering to the point of soaking might kill it.
Temperature and Humidity
Chenille plant won't deny its tropical origin and will pout in temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
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 sufficient. 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, the female specimens will produce the charming catkins characteristic of the plant. Look for the following varieties:
- 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 three to seven inches tall and is best grown in containers.
Like many fast growers, chenille plant can become unwieldy and 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 plant into a standard form. To do so, first, trim all leaves and stems from the bottom two inches of your plant. Once a week, trim all the foliage growing on the lowest two 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 grows only male or female flowers, and the male flowers are unimpressive; only the female plants 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:
Gather your pruning shears, rooting hormone, potting containers, and plant starting mix that contains potting soil and perlite.
Place the potting mixture into your containers and water it until moist.
Cut four- to six-inch stems from the softwood part of your chenille plant. Make sure each piece contains at least two leaves.
Dip the bottom ends of the cuttings into the rooting hormone.
Stick the ends of the cutting into the soil and move the pots to an indoor area out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist.
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. Make sure to always use high-quality potting soil and to increase the size of the pot. Use either a plastic pot or a glazed clay pot that will help retain moisture. Make sure the new pot has sufficient draining holes. 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. Fill in around the edges with additional soil. Water the plant and return it to its original location.
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 spread a few inches of mulch around the plant.
Because the chenille plant is a tender perennial outside of zones 10 and 11, you need to overwinter it indoors as a houseplant. It needs as much light and humidity as possible during the winter. Potted plants also need to experience dormancy so reduce water and fertilizer during the winter months.
Once temperatures begin to warm above 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, water and relocate your plant outdoors 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 if it receives 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 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep indoor plants away from drafts. Additionally, make sure to deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms.
Common Problems With Chenille Plant
Do not let this plant dry out because it thrives only in moist soil. Prolonged dry spells can lead to plant death, 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 might turn yellow.
How tall does chenille plant grow?
When grown outdoors, 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 that plants are gender-specific. Only the female plants are cultivated as ornamentals, however, because the flowers of male plants are not showy.
Does chenille plant have seeds?
Yes, however, this plant is dioecious (plants are gender specific), meaning seeds will either grow male or female plants and you won't know which gender the plant is until it begins producing flowers. The female plants produce the best and most beautiful flowers.