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Acalypha hispida Burm. f. 1768
pronounced: ak-uh-LY-fuh HISS-pih-duh
(Euphorbiaceae – the spurge family)
common names: Chenille Plant, Cat’s Tail
Acalypha is from the Greek ακαληφη (akaléphé), a nettle. The leaves of members of the genus have similar leaves to those of the nettle. Hispida is from the Latin hispidus, rough, shaggy, bristly. Chenille is a soft tufted cord used in embroidery, probably better known to us now as the cord used in making chenille bedspreads.
This genus is the fourth largest in the Euphorbiaceae family, and contains many plants native to the Pacific Islands. The Chenille Plant originates from Malaysia and New Guinea, but is now naturalized in parts of the USA, Mexico and Belize. The specimens photographed are in roadside gardens in Barbarra Street, Picnic Bay, and Barton Street, Nelly Bay.
The plant can grow up to about 3.5 m tall, with a spread of nearly 2 m. The bark is green, with a smooth texture. The light green leaves are cordate in shape. It is dioecious, and it is the female plant that produces the catkins, up to about 45 cm long, of purple to bright red pistillate flowers. The fuzzy appearance and the colour of the spikes comes from the long, much-branched styles and the feathery stigmas of the individual flowers. These catkins, of course, are the reason for the second of the common names. They will flower at any time of the year, so long as the conditions are favourable. The male flowers are less showy, and male trees are seldom grown. Chenille Plant grows well either in semi-shade or in direct sun, and prefers high levels of water, and around 80% humidity. It is fast-growing, and usually requires frequent pruning to keep it from becoming leggy.
The plant will grow from seed, but, of course, no seed will be available unless there is a male plant handy. Cuttings from the female plant may be struck for propagation purposes.
All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, so care should be taken when handling it; small children and pets should be kept clear of it. It grows well in containers, and may also be potted for use as a house plant.
Photographs taken 2011, Picnic Bay & Nelly Bay
Page last updated 30th October 2016