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Plectranthus scutellarioides (L.) R.Br. 1810
pronounced: plek-TRAN-thuss skew-tell-ah-ee-OH-ih-deez
(Lamiaceae – the lavender family)
pronounced: soh-len-oh-STEM-on skew-tell-ah-ee-OH-ih-deez , KOH-lee-uss BLOO-me-eye
common names: Coleus, Painted Nettle
Plectranthus is from the Greek πληκτρον (pléktron), a spur, and ανθος (anthos), a flower, referring to the spurred flowers. Scutellarioides means ‘like Scutellaria’, because the blooms of this species resemble those of the genus Scutellaria. This word, from the Latin scutum, a shield, means ‘shaped like a shield (or saucer)’. In the synonyms, Solenostemon is from two Greek words, σωλην (solén), a pipe or tube, and στημων (stémon), a thread (stamen), because the stamens are joined at the base of the corolla tube. The genus was formerly called Coleus, from κολεον (koleon), a sheath or scabbard. Blumei was named for Carl Ludwig von Blume (1796–1862), a German-Dutch botanist, who carried out extensive studies of the flora of southern Asia, particularly in Java. Coleus originated in south-east Asia.
This plant has very colourful foliage, and is popular both as a houseplant, and in gardens. Plectranthus, with some 350 species, is a genus of warm-climate plants found mostly in the southern hemisphere, in sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, India and the Indonesian archipelago down to Australia and some of the Pacific Islands. Several species are grown as ornamental plants, as leaf vegetables, as root vegetables for their edible tubers, or as medicine. The common name of Painted Nettle aptly describes these plants, with leaves the same shape as those of the nettle, but with the superb marking and colouring that makes them so popular with gardeners.
Plants of this genus may be erect, prostrate, or sprawling, and are sometimes downy or succulent. The leaves of Plectranthus scutellarioides are pointed oval in shape, and have toothed or scalloped edges. The flowers are usually small, and white, cream or blue in colour, borne on short spikes. The plant may be propagated from seed, but cuttings strike so easily that the plants are usually grown in this way. The height and width of the plant varies greatly between cultivars. They like either full sun or partial shade, again depending on the cultivar. The multi-coloured foliage of each cultivar is unique.
These plants are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. They were first introduced to gardeners in 1851, and it was not long before there were over 150 cultivars on the market. In Victorian times it was very commonly used as an edging plant, or a bedding plant, or was planted in containers. It seemed to fall out of favour in the 1960s, and this unpopularity lasted until quite recently.
It can be trained into standards or hedges to make a lovely addition to formal gardens. Some cultivars even do well in hanging baskets. In cooler climates, it needs to be taken indoors in winter, so there it is more often found growing in containers.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009, 2014
Page last updated 24th January 2017