Acalypha wilkesiana



Acalypha wilkesiana

Müll. Arg. 1866

pronounced: ak-uh-LY-fuh wilk-see-AH-nuh

(Euphorbiaceae — the spurge family)

common names: copper leaf, Joseph's coat

Acalypha is from the Greek ακαληφη (akaléphé), a nettle; wilkesiana is in honour of Admiral Charles Wilkes (1798–1877) of the US Navy. He is famous for having led the Wilkes Expedition from 1838 to 1842. The expedition of 6 ships left Virginia, stopped at Madeira and Rio de Janeiro, visited Tierra del Fuego, Chile, Peru, the Tuamoyu Archipelago, Samoa and New South Wales. From Sydney he sailed to the Antarctic and reported the discovery ‘of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands’. He went on to visit Fiji and the Hawaiian Islands, and then explored the west coast of the USA, at that time largely unknown. He returned home via the Philippines, the Sulu Archipelago, Borneo, Singapore, Polynesia, and the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived in New York, having completely encircled the globe, the last all-sail naval mission to do so. In the course of the expedition he lost 2 ships and 28 men. A good deal of botanical work was accomplished, although that was not the prime purpose of the expedition.

This large, fast-growing evergreen shrub is a native of Fiji and nearby islands. Its leaves are alternate and cordate, serrate, up to about 20 cm long, and provide a kaleidoscope of colour that can prove rather overwhelming if overdone in a garden. The leaves of the various cultivars vary in form, some being flat and others undulating. Although basically the foliage is a bronze-red to muted red, cultivars are available in varying mottled combinations of green, purple, yellow, orange, pink and white. It is easy to understand how it is commonly named after Joseph’s ‘coat of many colours’.

The dense, much-branched growth habit (up to about 4 m high if the plant is left to itself) creates a full shape, but plants occasionally need shaping to obtain a neat appearance. Copperleaf is often used for hedging. The plants are easily propagated from cuttings.

The unusual red, fuzzy, catkin-like flowers are in racemes hanging from leaf axils, usually hidden in the foliage.

To mention but a few of its many cultivars, ‘Marginata’ has coppery-green leaves with pink or crimson margins. ‘Macrophylla’ has larger leaves, variegated with bronze, cream, yellow and red. The leaves of ‘Musaica’ are mottled with orange and red. ‘Godseffiana’ has narrow, drooping leaves with cream-coloured margins.


Photographs taken 2009, 2010, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 24th September 2018