Acalypha hispida: Chenille plant

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Chenille plant, Red hot cat’s tail, Fox tail, Philippines Medusa

If you live in the tropics, it is unlikely that you have not seen this beautiful plant with its long pendulous flowers. They are also called Red hot cat tails and Fox tails because of the red flowers that hang down all over the plant in fuzzy threads.

In fact, the flower is very small, about 6mm long and just a bunch of thread-like pistils. But when many flowers are arranged on long catkins, which are small, soft flowers arranged in a bunch; they look very unique and beautiful.

Chenille plants can grow to a height of 3-4 meters, though potted plants only grow 1-2 meters. The leaves are broad and bright green, with slightly toothed margins. The plants are dioecious, which means there are either male or female flowers on a plant.

The female plants produce beautiful inflorescences which look like hanging tails of red or maroon, and can reach a length of 16-18 inches. There are some variants with white and cream flowers as well, called Alba and White-margined though they are not very common. There is a dwarf variant too, that only grows to a height of 4-7 inches.

These plants can grown and bloom throughout the year in warm tropical weather. So they need good sunlight, watering and fertilization throughout the year. Chenille plants can be pruned severely to keep it bushy, since they can become tall and gangly is left unpruned.

It is best the keep the plants away from children and pets because they have a clear latex which is toxic if it comes into contact with the mouth or nose. Wearing gloves while handling or pruning the plants is a good idea.

Propagation can be easily done with stem cuttings. Seed propagation is also possible, though you may end up with male plants that don’t produce flowers.

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