Joseph's Coat

Alternanthera dentata x rubiginosa

Photo: Joseph's Coat

General description

Common Name: Joseph's coat
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Amaranthaceae
Zone: 10 to 11
Native Range: West Indies
Garden Location: Kemper Center for Home Gardening Building
Height: 1 to 3 feet
Spread: 1 to 2 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Color: White
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Unknown
Flowers: Flowers not Showy
Leaves: Colorful, Evergreen
Uses: Suitable as Annual

Tropical perennial that is winter hardy to USDA Zone 10 and is grown exclusively for its colorful foliage. Best grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best foliage colors are developed in full sun. Soils must not be allowed to dry out. In the St. Louis area, it is typically grown outdoors as an annual, but may also be grown indoors as a houseplant as long as it is sited in a bright, sunny location and soils are kept moist. Plants may be grown from seed by starting them indoors in late winter and transplanting them outdoors after last frost date. Quality of leaf color may vary considerably and only the best seedlings should be selected for inclusion in the planting. Pinching stems or shearing will keep plants compact and bushy. For those who do not wish to plant seed, some of the more popular varieties are available from nurseries in cell packs or flats. Smaller plants may be potted up and brought inside in winter. In the alternative, tip cuttings may be taken in late summer for overwintering indoors.

Noteworthy Characteristics

A. dentata cultivars are noted for their rich purple to burgundy leaves. Native to the West Indies and Brazil, A. dentata is a generally upright plant that typically forms spreading foliage mounds to 12-30” tall. Although species plants feature linear-lanceolate to ovate, toothed green leaves (to 3.5” long), it is the purple-leaved cultivars that have become popular garden plants. Foliage is suggestive of coleus. White apetulous flowers appear in small axillary clusters in late fall to winter, but are insignificant. Flowers are usually observed in St. Louis only on houseplants or on container plants brought inside for overwintering. Plants in the genus Alternanthera have a rather large number of descriptive common names, including but not limited to Joseph’s coat, copperleaf, calico plant, bloodleaf, joyweed and parrot leaf, all in reference to the often brilliantly colored leaves which provide foliage contrast to gardens and container plantings.


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