Copper Plant - Acalypha Wilkesiana

Botanical Name: Acalypha wilkesiana 

Coppery leaves make this South Pacific Island native a beautiful house plant. Find out how to care for Copper Plant indoors, including when to water and fertilize, how to propagate, and why you should prune your plant.

acalypha wilkesiana, copperleaf plantCoppery splashed leaves make this foliage plant an eye-catching houseplant for any sunny room. Photo: © Vijayakumar

Get to Know Copper Plant

Some common names for Acalypha wilkesiana are Copperleaf, Fire Dragon and Jacob's Coat. Coppery red foliage is the hallmark of spectacular Copper Plant. However, there are dozens of cultivars to choose. 

Those vibrant leaves can grow up to 5 in (13 cm) long, often with saw-toothed edges.

Acalypha wilkesiana is an evergreen perennial, so you can count on it as a decorative houseplant year-round. The only problem with this vigorous plant is that it will quickly outgrow its space. Don't think about moving it outdoors, unless you live in the tropics. This beauty is native to the South Pacific Islands and prefers steady warmth and sunlight.

How big does Copper Plant get? This fast-growing shrub will reach up to 6 ft (1.8 m) tall, if not cut back. (See Year-Round Care below.)

Plants naturally lose some of their lower leaves, making them look leggy. You may want to replace your houseplant after a couple years or when it's no longer attractive. Acalypha wilkesiana can be propagated by stem tip cuttings for an ongoing succession of houseplants. (See "Propagation" below.)

Does A. wilkesiana flower? Yes. Narrow, fuzzy flower spikes may appear in summer, but they are not nearly as captivating as the dramatic foliage. 

Acalypha Wilkesiana Varieties

You'll find varieties with leaves streaked, splashed and edged with pink, red, bronze, purple and green, each one prettier than the other.

'Mooreana' has deeply veined maroon leaves with serrated edges. 'Marginata' features bronze leaves edged with red and 'Can Can' is a popular variety splashed with dark pink and creamy white. 

Year-Round Care for Acalypha Wilkesiana

Cut it back. Acalypha wilkesiana is a vigorous grower. You'll have a big shrub before you know it, so it's a good idea to prune it back by half every spring. You'll get more beautiful foliage this way -- pruning encourages a flush of new stems and leaves. Do not pinch off growing tips, though; this plant branches out naturally.

Repot in spring. Move the plant up one pot size when its roots fill the pot. If you see roots growing through the drainage holes, it's definitely time to repot.

Watch for pests. Check for mealy bugs and spider mites. If you see any signs of pests, isolate your houseplant and treat any infestation immediately. Raising the humidity in winter will help to prevent an invasion of spider mites that are attracted to dry conditions. The most efficient way to raise humidity for houseplants is to use a cool-mist room humidifier.

Keep it warm in winter. Copperleaf plant is an evergreen perennial that likes warmth and sunlight year-round. This tropical native will tolerate a minimum of 60°F/16°C in winter, but prefers warm temperatures like we do. Growth is slower, so water sparingly in winter and stop fertilizing till spring.

acalypha wilkesiana, copperleaf plantFuzzy flower spikes may appear in summer, but they're merely an added attraction to the showy foliage. Photo: © Coconutdreams

Acalypha Wilkesiana Care Tips

Light: Bright light is essential for good leaf color. Put your plant where it'll get plenty of light, but protect plant from hot midday sun, which may cause brown scorch marks on leaves. Filtered light from a south- or west-facing window will give it the light it needs.

Water: Keep the soil evenly moist year-round, but take care not to overwater. Soggy soil will cause Acalypha wilkesiana to wilt, and may lead to root rot. It's a good idea to use a pot with a drainage hole; water thoroughly, then empty drainage tray. Water less in winter, but don't allow Copperleaf plant to dry out or leaves may fall off.

Humidity: Moderate to high (above 50% relative humidity). If the air is dry, especially in winter, use a cool-mist humidifier or pebble tray.

Temperature: Average to warm 65-80°F/18-27°C year-round. Copperleaf will tolerate temps as low as 60°F/16°C.

Soil: Good-quality, all-purpose potting mix.

Fertilizer: Feed every 2 weeks spring through fall with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer.

Propagation: Take 3 in (8 cm) stem tip cuttings in early spring and pot them in equal parts horticultural sand and peat moss. Use a heat mat to maintain a steady 75°F/24°C.

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