Velvet plant is an evergreen herbaceous perennial in the Gynura genus. The genus includes several dozen species, several of which are common houseplants. The most popular is perhaps G. aurantica, often known as velvet plant, purple passion plant, or simply gynura.
These are really beautiful and unusual plants, very fast-growing, with furry leaves in striking colors. A velvet plant shoot will transform into a bushy little plant in a matter of a few weeks, shooting up in a lovely profusion of downy purple leaves that measure up to 6 inches long.
Aside from its rapid growth rate, the velvet plant is known for something else—its offensive-smelling flowers. When a plant reaches maturity, it begins to flower with small red and yellow flowers that emit a strong and very unpleasant odor. Most growers solve this problem by simply snipping off the smelly flowers. Flowering is also a sign that the plant has reached maturity and will soon begin to die back. Because these are short-lived plants (two to three years at the most), it's a good idea to propagate mature plants early and keep a steady supply.
|Botanical Name||Gynura spp.|
|Common Names||Velvet plant, purple passion plant, gynura|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous evergreen perennial|
|Mature Size||1 to 2 feet tall; 2- to 4-foot spread|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Soil-based potting mix|
|Soil pH||6.5 to 7.5 (neutral)|
|Bloom Time||November to February (buds usually removed)|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 12 (USDA)|
How to Grow Velvet Plant
Velvet plant is a relatively easy houseplant to grow, provided its basic needs are met: a sunny location, proper water, and regular feeding. Pinch off the growth shoots regularly to keep the plant from getting leggy and sparse. These are short-lived plants that usually decline before repotting is necessary.
Velvet plant loves bright light and will thrive in front of a sunny window, though they like some protection from direct sun in the afternoon. The brighter the light, the deeper and richer the leaf color—up until a point. If your leaves start to show symptoms of scorching, then provide less full sunlight. Too little light may cause the purple color to fade to green.
This plant is normally grown as a potted specimen in a soil-based potting mix.
Potting and Repotting
Plant velvet plant in a well-draining pot filled with a soil-based potting mix. These are short-lived plants, living only two to three years. Providing the initial container is large enough, you should not have to repot the plant at all until it begins to decline after flowering. However, many growers like to keep their plant by propagating cuttings yearly into new containers.
These plants like a steady supply of moisture and will quickly wilt in drier conditions. If your plant begins to show signs of wilting, water immediately and it should perk up quickly. Slightly reduce watering from fall to late winter.
Do not spray the leaves, as the downy surface will hold water and increase the chances of a fungal infection.
Moisture and Humidity
This plant is native to Java and prefers the conditions common to that environment. Ideal growing temperatures are 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It tolerates a wide range of humidity levels, provided the soil is kept consistently moist.
Feed every week or two weeks with a weak liquid fertilizer. During winter, reduce fertilizer to monthly or biweekly, depending on the strength of your fertilizer.
Propagating Velvet Plant
Velvet plant propagates easily from stem cuttings. Take 3-inch stem cuttings with several leaf nodes. Use a rooting hormone for increased success rates with cuttings. Put the cuttings into potting soil and cover to keep the cutting warm and moist. It's a good idea, however, to occasionally remove the cover so the young plant's leaves are allowed to dry out.
Common Pests/ Diseases
These plants are susceptible to aphids, which are attracted to the stems. Keep an eye out for spider mites and scale, which can be dealt with using a good pesticide in severe infestations or simply wiped away with a wet cloth if you manage to catch them early.
Velvet Plant vs. Other Gynura Species
There are several species of Gynura seen in the trade, including:
- G. aurantica: This is the typical velvet plant. It has an upright growth habit, quickly reaching several feet in size with purple-down covered leaves. The 'Purple Passion' variety was bred for even greater leaf color and will reward you, providing you give it enough light.
- G. sarmentosa: This is a smaller, trailing form that is best used in conjunction with hanging or trailing plants in a collection.
- G. procumbens: This is another hanging variety with trailing stems up to 6-feet long and deep burgundy colored leaf bottoms.
Despite their obnoxious scent, people have been growing the velvet plant indoors for more than two centuries, drawn by its rapid growth habit and amazingly colored foliage, which resembles Cerodendron, a popular landscape plant in warm climates. Because velvet plant is not particular in regards to temperature, the key to healthy growth is providing a steady level of moisture without soaking the plant and the bright light necessary for good leaf color. They make wonderful plants to group with other brightly colored plants in a sunny windowsill, where the sunlight will pick up interesting highlights in the plant's natural color.