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pronounced: ak-uh-LY-fuh in-FUR-no
(Euphorbiaceae – the spurge family)
common name: Inferno Copper Leaf
Acalypha is from the Greek ακαληφη (akaléphé), a nettle. ‘Inferno’ is Italian for ‘hell’, presumably used for this Australian cultivar because of the flame-like shape and colour of the leaves, especially in new growth. Acalyphas originated in the South Pacific Islands. This cultivar, I think developed from Acalypha wilkesiana, has been around for a long time, and is now generally regarded as rather old-fashioned. My memory is that most Townsville gardens sported one or more of these plants in the 1930s. This is a fine hedging plant which needs just the occasional trim to keep it in order, but it soon becomes straggly if neglected. It is rather a common plant on Magnetic Island, and there are several hedges of it in the Dunoon development in Picnic Bay. The plants in flower – and flowering seems to happen only rarely – were outside the row of shops in Hayles Avenue, Arcadia.
This is a spectacularly-coloured shrub with copper-red leaves in various shades. Its leaves are much smaller than those of most other Alacyphas, being only 3 or 4 cm long. They come to a narrow point and look as if they’ve been sprayed with shades of red and orange with red leaf veins. The plant can grow up to 2 m in height, but tends to become leggy at that height, and hedges seem to do best at about 1 m or a little more in height. It may also be pruned into a lower edging hedge. It is both drought- and wind-tolerant, and very well-suited to our climate. It is fairly salt-tolerant, but is happier back a little from the beach. It will grow either in full sun or half shade. The more sun, the brighter the colour. In shade the leaves are more likely to be a paler colour, or green. Inferno is also suitable for growing in containers on patios and around pools.
Apart from Acalypha hispida and Acalypha chamaedrifolia, most Acalyphas have insignificant flowers, and are grown for their foliage. All species are fast-growing and develop quickly into shrubs a metre or more high. To keep them within bounds, many of them must be cut back annually and severely, taking out at least half of the previous year’s growth. If the plants are grown in containers, it is usually easier to discard the overgrown plants each year and to renew the plants from cuttings.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay & Arcadia, 2010
Page last updated 30th September 2016