These are really beautiful and unusual plants. They are 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 will begin to flower with small red and yellow flowers that emit a strong and very unpleasant odor. Just the kind of plant you want to keep indoors, right? But 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.
- Light: The Gynura loves the bright light and will thrive in front of a sunny window. The brighter the light, the deeper and richer the leaf color up until a point. If your leaves start to show symptoms of scorching, provide less full sunlight.
- Water: 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. Also, do not spray leaves as the down on the leaves will hold water and increase the chances of a fungal infection.
- Fertilizer: Feed weekly with a weak liquid fertilizer. During winter, reduce fertilizer to monthly or biweekly, depending on how strong your fertilizer is.
Gynura propagates easily from stem cuttings. Take 3" 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.
Gynura is a short-lived plant, so a single plant will only live 2-3 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.
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. 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 clerodendron, a popular landscape plant in warm climates. Because they're not particular in regards to temperature, the key to healthy growth is providing a steady level of moisture without soaking the plant and the kind of bright light necessary to develop good leaf color. In terms of display, 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. They are susceptible to aphids, which are attracted to their succulent stems. Keep an eye out for spider mites and scale, too, 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.