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The Cattail or Chenille Plant: Fantastical Flowers
The Cattail or Chenille Plant: Fantastical Flowers
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For gardeners and hobbyists looking for a blooming plant that’s both eye-catching and unusual, the chenille plant is a perfect solution. Its brightly colored, pendant-like flower clusters closely resemble chenille yarn, which led to its name. You’ll appreciate this exotic plant for its versatility. Grow it outdoors in containers or hanging baskets, or as a hedge or accent shrub in the garden. The chenille plant also makes a unique houseplant.

01

It belongs to the genus Acalypha

acalypha hispida tropical chenille plant magicflute002 / Getty Images

Native to the South Pacific, the chenille plant, or Acalypha hispida, is an evergreen tropical that prefers hot, humid summer climates. That narrows down its hardiness growing zones to zones 10 and 11, like Southern California, Florida, or Hawaii. If you live in areas where the winter temperatures dip below 40 degrees, you can still grow the chenille plant, but you’ll need to bring it indoors before the cold weather arrives. Its optimal growing temperature is around 65 degrees.

02

Beware of this plant’s sap

sap skin irritation toxic chenille Holly Guerrio / Getty Images

The chenille plant oozes a clear sap that can cause skin irritation. The entire plant is slightly toxic, and if a person ingests any parts of it, they could mildly upset their stomach. Wear gloves while planting, trimming, or propagating this plant. Hang it out of the reach of smaller children. The plant is not toxic to cats, dogs, or horses.

03

It blooms for months and months

blooms months pipe cleaners flowers bdspn / Getty Images

One of the most amazing features of this plant is that it blooms for long periods, several months in most cases. The long blooms — the catkins — are clusters of tiny flowers on stems that grow to lengths of up to 18 inches. Some people compare the blooms to large pipe cleaners. The flowers range from a purplish red to a paler pink. As the winter months approach, the flowers lighten in color.

04

Give it bright light and warm temperatures

warm temperatures sunniest spot bloom Karin de Mamiel / Getty Images

If you’re planting your chenille plant outdoors, choose the sunniest spot in the garden. Place hanging baskets and containers where they’ll receive full sun, at least six hours each day. Morning sun is best. Indoor plants prefer a window that faces south where it can receive lots of light. The more light it gets, the fuller and denser the plant becomes. Its flowers will also have a more intense color. Just remember to protect it from direct, hot sun.

05

The chenille prefers moist soil

water moist soil flowers Diane Labombarbe / Getty Images

Plant the chenille in clay, loam, or sand with pH values between 5.0 and 7.5 for best results. Keep the soil around the plant moist, but not saturated. Never allow it to dry out completely. Water thoroughly until you see water flowing out of the drainage holes. Overwatering and soggy soil kill the roots. Use a spray mister exclusively on the leaves between waterings. Avoid getting water on the flowers.

06

Fertilize it often

fertilize heavily growing season plant PeterEtchells / Getty Images

Your chenille plant will thrive if you fertilize it heavily during its growing season. Instead of fertilizing every other week like you would most annuals, the chenille requires weekly rounds for beautiful blooms. Use a water-soluble flower fertilizer, diluted by half, or a slow-release granular product for best results. Reduce fertilizer in the winter when growth slows.

07

Prune it a few times each year

vigorous grower gangly pruning chenille undefined undefined / Getty Images

The chenille plant is a vigorous grower. It can quickly reach a height of 15 feet and spread out around eight feet. In containers, the chenille grows quickly but will remain smaller. After a while, the plant can begin to look a bit gangly and sprawled out. To prevent this, prune it. Chenille plants respond well to heavy pruning twice a year. You’ll be amazed how quickly the plant grows back.

08

Propagate to create new plants

new plants fresh cuttings hanging krblokhin / Getty Images

You can start new plants with fresh cuttings from the chenille plant. Cut four to six-inch stems with two or more leaves in early spring for best results. Apply a rooting hormone powder, then plant them in perlite or a mixture of peat and perlite. Cover the pot with a plastic bag or a tight-fitting dome to keep the moisture inside and apply bottom heat. Place in indirect sunlight until you see new growth. Replant the new plants in potting soil that allows good drainage.

09

Spider mites are its nemesis

webbing invasion spider mites Tunatura / Getty Images

If you notice a pitting on the leaves, then see a webbing spread across your chenille plant, it’s a spider mite invasion. These reddish-brown or pale-colored pests are the arch-rivals of the chenille plant. They live in colonies and thrive in hot, dry conditions. Avoid chemical pesticides, which encourage them to spread. Instead, trim off infested parts of the plant and treat others with neem oil or mist the plant with ice water. While this may damage the blooms, you’ll get rid of the problem quickly and your plant should bounce back.

10

Choose how you want it to grow

tree variety shorter catkins dwarf hecos255 / Getty Images

If you prefer a more tree-like plant, trim the leaves and stems off of the lower two inches of the plant. Use a stake to support it and keep the lower foliage trimmed back. Soon, the stem will become stronger and trunk-like. These plants are lovely when planted in hanging baskets, and are easy to move indoors once the weather cools off. Look for other varieties, including A. hispida or White Margined, which blooms cream-colored white catkins. Acalypha pendula is a dwarf variety with shorter, pendulating red catkins.

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