Alternanthera ficoidea

Joseph's coat


Alternanthera ficoidea

(L.) Sm. 1819

pronounced: al-ter-NANTH-er-uh fy-KOY-dee-uh

(Amaranthaceae — the amaranth family)


common names: Joseph's coat, joyweed

Alternanthera is derived from the Latin alternis, alternately, and the Greek ανθος (anthos), a flower; ficoidea means ‘fig-like’ (ficus).

The plant is very closely related to Alternanthera bettzickiana; indeed, some botanists reckon A. bettzickiana to be a subspecies of A. ficoidea.

This is an American native from Mexico to Argentina, a low-growing plant that typically grows on erect to procumbent stems 15 – 30 cm tall. These stems are often bent at the nodes, and the plant is deep-rooted. Species plants have opposite elliptic to broad ovate leaves (to 2.5 cm long), but it is the brightly coloured cultivars (hence the common name) that have become popular garden plants, featuring green leaves blotched with yellow, orange, red, brown, copper or purple, often with red veining. Insignificant white apetalous flowers appear either sessile or on short pedicels in small axillary clusters.

The plant is often sold as a submerged aquarium plant, but it is not really suitable for the purpose, as it does not usually live that way, and it soon dies off when it is submerged. It will usually do better in terrariums, or in bog gardens around ponds. It has escaped into the wild, where the coloured cultivars tend to revert to the green form pictured here, and it has the potential to become a serious waterway weed. Indeed, it has already spread into the Ross River at Mundingburra, Townsville, joining other invasive species to form a dense floating mat in places.

Of the cultivars,
      • ‘Chartreuse’ has green and gold foliage;
      • ‘Gold Threads’ has light green leaves with prominent gold tips;
      • ‘Green Machine’ has dark green quilted leaves;
      • ‘Grenadine’ has pointed leaves with distinctive burgundy spots and tinges of brown;
      • ‘Party Time’ has glossy pointed dark green leaves with showy rose-coloured variegation;
      • ‘Purple Knights’ had ruby-coloured foliage;
      • ‘Raspberry Rum’ has glossy pointed burgundy leaves with rose-coloured variegation;
      • ‘Red Threads’ has narrow burgundy-coloured leaves;
      • ‘Versicolor’ has broad green leaves marked with yellow and pink veins;
      • ‘White Carpet’ has puckered green leaves boldly edged in white.

When kept in their proper place, these plants make very attractive borders when massed together, but their invasive potential should always be kept in mind.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2014
Page last updated 6th October 2018