Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 2 Acalypha wilkesiana

Common Names: copperleaf, Joseph's coat, fire-dragon, match-me-if-you-can Family: Euphorbiaceae (spurge Family)
Image Gallery

Here's Acalypha wilkesiana creating a spectacle of itself against the green backdrop of the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami, Florida.


Under ideal, frostfree conditions copperleaf grows as a spreading evergreen shrub with upright branches that tend to originate near the base. It can get up to 10 ft (3.1 m) tall with a similar spread. The leaves are alternate, elliptic to oval, serrate, 5-8 in (12.7-20.3 m) long and multi-colored. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, hanging in 4-8 in (10.2-20.3 cm) catkinlike racemes usually hidden in the foliage. Many cultivars are available with different leaf forms and colors. Acalypha wilkesiana '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 colored margins.


Copperleaf is native to Fiji and nearby islands in the South Pacific. It has escaped from cultivation and become established in disturbed sites in a few scattered localities in central Florida.


Light: Copperleaf does fine in partial shade or sun. It prefers a position sheltered from strong winds, and a fertile, organic soil. Indoor plants do well in medium light, but leaf color develops best on plants kept in bright light. Moisture: Outdoors, copperleaf does best in a rich, moist, but fast-draining soil. Indoor plants do better in a soilless potting mix. Keep the medium constantly moist, but not saturated. Daily misting is recommended for indoor plants. Water sparingly in winter. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Although usually given as USDA Zones 10-11, copperleaf seems to have established in Zone 9a in Central Florida. Indoor plants should be kept above 55ºF (12.8ºC). Can also be grown as an annual. Propagation: By stem cuttings at any time of year. Use bottom heat.


In South Florida and tropical America, copperleaf is a popular outdoor plant that provides color throughout the year. It is used in mixed hedges and shrub borders and as a specimen shrub. Elsewhere copperleaf is grown as an annual where it's spectacular foliage replaces flowers from late summer until frost. Copperleaf is also grown indoors as a container plant. However, it must be maintained in a warm, humid, bright environment. Cut off the tips of growing shoots to get a bushier plant.

Copperleaf foliage varies in color and pattern from variety to variety and even on the same individual for that matter but is always bright and beautiful.


This remarkable plant has foliage that is more colorful than many flowers! Other names for Acalypha wilkesiana include A. amentacea and A. tricolor.

Steve Christman 10/09/99; updated 1/16/04

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Acalypha species profiled on Floridata:

Acalypha hispida

( chenille plant, red-hot cattail, foxtail, red-hot cat's tail )

Acalypha wilkesiana

( copperleaf, Joseph's coat, fire-dragon, match-me-if-you-can )

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