Iresine herbstii is a relatively uncommon plant, but one that's gorgeous in any garden or as a houseplant. In all, there are about 30 species of Iresine plants in the genus, all of them native to South America, especially Brazil. They range from small to medium-sized shrubs, and most are perennial. The flowers on these plants are unremarkable, consisting of small greenish or white flowers on small stems, but instead, they are commonly grown for their striking foliage.
Aside from their interesting foliage, these plants are notable for the range of their common names. Besides blood leaf, they are known as the chicken gizzard plant, the beefsteak plant, and other descriptive names. They are more common in the Southern Hemisphere, which makes them novelties in the northern hemisphere.
|Botanical Name||Iresine herbstii|
|Common Name||Bloodleaf, chicken gizzard, beefsteak plant|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||12 to 18 inches tall when potted|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, soil-based potting mixture|
|Soil pH||5.6 to 5.9|
|Bloom Time||Flowers not showy|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 12|
How to Grow Iresine
Although Iresine can be planted both outside and indoors, it gets quite finicky outdoors. It's hardy to USDA Zones 10 to 12, and it needs a lot of heat and humidity. If you live in an area that's prone to cooler temperatures, either grow Iresine as a houseplant or keep it in a container and move it indoors when the temperature drops.
In its native habitat or when grown outdoors in the right conditions, the plant can grow to be 5 feet tall with a 3-foot spread. However, indoors, it's more likely to stay between 12 and 18 inches tall, with red leaves that are up to 4 inches long.
Smaller plants tend to thrive in partial shade, but as they grow they can tolerate more light. They are margin plants by nature, meaning they grow on the edge of forests and can withstand varied light levels. They can tolerate less light in the winter months, so don't place them too close to a window. If the plant is getting leggy, however, it's probably not getting enough light.
When growing the plant outdoors, Iresine prefers organically rich, well-draining soil. For indoor growth, though, use a loamy, soil-based potting mixture.
Regular moisture is essential, especially during the growing season. They aren't water plants, so don't waterlog them, but plants without adequate moisture will begin to develop brown leaf margins and dropping leaves. During the winter months, you can cut back on waterings, but aim to keep the soil moist.
Temperature and Humidity
These are "warm house" plants and cannot tolerate lower temperatures or cold, dry air. The plant requires a temperature of at least 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Indoors, they are best grown in window boxes or bathrooms, which often have warmth and humidity. If you have a glasshouse, they will thrive there.
Due to their low tolerance for cold, dry air, they will need to be frequently misted and provided with adequate heat during the winter.
Feed with a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks throughout the growing season.
Potting and Repotting
Iresine should be repotted annually until it reaches its mature size, then it can be repotted every other year or propagated to create new stock and discarded. In the tropical landscape, it is often used as bedding plants, so it's a nice effect to grow a small clump of them in a container or to grow them in a mixed container with other tropical plants.
They can also be easily propagated from fleshy stem-tip cuttings. For best success, take cuttings early in the season, use a rooting hormone, and provide bottom warmth and very high humidity. Seal the pot inside a plastic bag to keep the moisture in, and remove it when the plant shows signs of new growth.
Varieties of Iresine
There are dozens of species of Iresine herbstii, but only a few are grown for ornamental purposes.
- Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima': Bright red leaves with pink veins
- Iresine herbstii 'Aueoreticulata': Green leaves with yellow veins
- Iresine herbstii 'Blazin Rose': Deep red-purple leaves with pinkish-red veins
- Iresine herbstii 'Acuminata': Dark maroon leaves with pinkish-red veins
Iresine plants will put out small, pale green-white flowers, but they're not showy. Therefore, most gardeners choose to pinch off the buds, so that the plant can divert its energy into growing its beautiful foliage.
Common Pests and Diseases
Iresine doesn't have any significant pest or disease problems, but it is vulnerable to pests including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the least toxic option.