Copperleaf Provides Great Foliage Contrast

November 11, 2005

HERE’S a dazzler of an ornamental that adds lively warm colors to the home garden. The copperleaf plant (Acalypha wilkesiana) is a member of the E u p h o r b i a c e a e family and is a relative of the poinsettia.It is native to the South Sea Islands, but is now found around the world in tropical regions. In Costa Rica, the plant is commonly found in just about any barrio, and many nurseries offer several varieties.With its large, colorful leaves in shades of copper-red, purple, green and yellow, copperleaf is easy to recognize. This hardy, bushy shrub needs little in terms of fertilization or pest control, and grows vigorously in a wide range of soils, including red clay. During the rainy season copperleaf is immune to leaf diseases, and in the dry season it requires little or no irrigation, which places this plant high on the list of eco friendly ornamentals.Copperleaf is especially useful in landscaping for contrasting green foliage plants. Its bright colors highlight any garden arrangement.Ticos often use this plant as a privacy border hedge. However, overuse of this plant in a landscaping design tends to create a “hot” feeling, rather than the refreshing, cool, green sensation that is preferable in a garden environment. Copperleaf is another plant that has evolved favoring vegetative, instead of seed, reproduction. You can use woody stem cuttings from mature plants to propagate new ones. Wood stems 20-30 centimeters long can be planted directly in the soil or in plastic nursery bags with regular soil.If you plant directly, it’s best to try it in the early part of the rainy season, so the cuttings will have plenty of time to form a good root stock before the dry season arrives – or be prepared to irrigate your plants.When planting in the nursery, keep the newly planted cuttings in partial shade and water frequently. As they begin to sprout new leaves, move them into the sun. Be sure to transplant them early to prevent the roots from becoming overgrown in the containers.Annual additions of compost to the soil around the plants and foliar spraying with natural fertilizers, such as seaweed extract and compost tea, will keep your plants vigorous and healthy. For more information on tropical gardening, visit www.thenewdawncenter.org or e-mail thenewdawncenter@yahoo.com.

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