How to Grow Acalypha Indoors

A. hispida plant
The A. hispida is a great hanging plant with striking pendant red flowers.

Adatuitokia/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Acalypha plants are long-standing houseplant favorites—and for good reason. They're tough, visually appealing, and come in a variety of forms, meaning you can find a varietal suited to any style you want. Native to Asia, acalypha plants can be grown year-round indoors, where care should be taken to mimic their natural tropical environment.

Your biggest challenge, once you meet its basic requirements, will likely be acalypha's fast-growing nature and tendency toward legginess. However, as long as you keep the plant well-trimmed, it will reward you with excellent color and interesting leaf forms.

Botanical Name Acalypha
Common Name  Acalypha, chenille plant, red hot cat's tail, copperleaf 
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen
Mature Size 4–6 ft. tall, 6–8 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, alkaline
Bloom Time Year-round
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones  10–11 (USDA)
Native Area  Asia
Toxicity  Toxic to humans

Acalypha Care

Generally, tropical plants make for excellent indoor specimens, as they can't be grown in much of the country outdoors. Acalypha plants are attractive and relatively easy to care for, as long as you strive to maintain the moisture, light, and heat levels that remind them of their native tropical environment. Care for these warm-weather beauties properly, and you'll be rewarded with an eye-catching (and eventually sprawling) indoor plant that will add a boost of greenery and color to any corner of your home.

Light

Acalypha plants are definitely bright-light lovers. While they don't necessarily like the harsh rays that full sun provides, they can tolerate it if acclimated. Indoors, look for a bright spot, like an east-facing window that gets ample diffused light throughout the day.

Soil

Acalypha plants are not particularly picky about their soil conditions and can thrive in mixtures ranging from sand and loam to clay. The most important factor when it comes to your soil choice is selecting a blend that is quick-draining so that the plant does not become waterlogged. Additionally, the more organically rich your soil blend is, the faster (and fuller) your acalypha plant will grow. When it comes to the pH level of its soil, acalypha plants prefer alkaline or acidic blends.

Water

To keep your acalypha healthy and happy, give it a regular supply of water, even during the winter months. The plant's roots and soil should never be allowed to dry out, so this could mean watering it at least once a week—if not more—depending on the environment in your home.

Temperature and Humidity

True to their tropical nature, acalypha plants like to be kept in warm and humid conditions. It's important to keep your plant away from any drafts or cold spots in your home—if at all possible, it should never be allowed to dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beyond balmy temperatures, acalypha plants need lots of humidity, too. Start by housing your plant in a typically humid room in your house, like the kitchen or bathroom. From there, regularly mist your plant to keep up the ambient humidity—you can also place the pot on a tray of pebbles with water to help increase the humidity below the plant as well. If you're still struggling to maintain a humid enough environment for your acalypha plant, you can always invest in a small space humidifier to keep near it.

Fertilizer

Acalypha plants appreciate regular doses of fertilizer throughout their growing season. A liquid blend is best, but they'll also thrive if fed with a controlled-release fertilizer. During the winter months, cut back on feeding or stop entirely.

Is Acalypha Toxic?

While not toxic to small animals or pets (like cats and dogs), it is considered mildly toxic to humans, especially small children. Keep the plant away from eye level for little ones who may be curious about its colorful leaves and flowers. If you suspect your child may have ingested your acalypha (all parts of the plant are toxic) or they're exhibiting any of the below symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

Symptoms of Poisoning

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Skin rash or redness

Acalypha Varieties

There are several varieties of acalypha plants that make for excellent houseplants. The most popular, A. hispida (also known as chenille plant or red hot cat's tail) is a popular trailing plant with red, bottle-brush-like flowers that hang in tails. For interesting leaves, it's hard to beat the A. wildensiana varietal (also known as copperleaf), which features large, crinkled leaves with interesting leaf margins. A number of varieties are available, including the A. wildensiana 'Goldsefiana', which has light green leaves that are rimmed with white.

Propagating Acalypha

Acalypha plants propagate easily from stem tip cuttings. For best results, take a cutting in the spring, when new growth emerges on the plant. Dip the cut tip into a rooting hormone and plant the cuttings in seedling soil. Acalypha plants propagate most easily with high humidity, so enclose the pot in a plastic bag and keep it in a warm, bright spot. When new growth emerges, you can remove the bag and move the plant to its more permanent location.

Potting and Repotting Acalypha

The type of acalypha plant you choose will dictate its exact repotting needs, but as a general rule of thumb, all acalypha plants can be considered fast-growing. However, they also tend toward legginess, which is the primary reason for regular repotting and pruning. In the first few years, you might want to repot your acalypha annually in the springtime.

To do so, increase one pot size every year. Once the plant has reached its ideal size (which can vary depending on your home and the spot that you keep it in), you can repot it every other year or annually into the same size pot and root prune and trim the branches back aggressively to maintain it's shape and size. Most acalypha species can withstand fairly aggressive pruning (up to 25 percent of the plant's overall foliage) and still thrive.

Common Pests and Diseases

Acalypha plants that are dry are more prone to leaf-drop and pests, as well as general decline. The plant is most vulnerable to common household pests like mealybugs and aphids, especially if nearby houseplants are infected. If you notice a sign of infestation, isolate the troubled plant immediately and treat it with a mild insecticide or horticultural oil like neem oil.