Our horticulture team at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is working on a new vertical wall idea for the summer (of 2014). Today, we were brainstorming which plants to use in the vertical panels. Someone mentioned Sedum ‘Angelina,’ another idea was Lysmachia nummularia ‘Aurea,’ and then I remembered Joseph’s Coat or Alternanthera ficoidea.
Alternanthera is a tender perennial (hardy to USDA zone 10) native from Mexico to Argentina, which is primarily grown for its foliage. The leaves on the plants are small and vary in appearance from being an inch wide to some cultivars that have thread-like foliage.
Using Alternanthera in a Vertical Wall garden
The Alternanthera would work in our green wall idea because it would provide us with some interesting colors in a fast-growing plant. In our zone 6a gardens here on the coast of Maine, we would need to start the plants in late April or early May in a greenhouse to get them rooted in and growing. Probably by mid-June, we could place the vertical panels out into the garden.
In order for Joseph’s Coat to continue growing successfully, the temperature needs to be consistently above 55-60 degrees. As the summer growing season goes on, the warmer it gets, the stronger it will grow. Then, by mid-summer, each plant should be around a foot wide and could be a foot tall. The great thing about Alternanthera ficoidea is that it can be sheared into a tight form.
Many Victorian gardens utilized Joseph’s Coat as a tightly clipped annual in bedding schemes.
Joseph’s Coat grows best in full sun to partial shade in acidic, moist, but well-drained soil.
In warmer parts of the country, you might want to double-check if you can plant Alternanthera. It is closely related to the noxious alligator weed. In warm areas where alligator weed is a problem, different insects that feed on it have been released to try to control its growth. These insects might go after the ornamental Alternanthera as well.
Some of the more popular Alternanthera ficoidea cultivars include
Alternanthera ficoidea ‘Party Time’ – a tricolor selection with white, red, and green colored leaves and prized for its colorful foliage.
‘Red Threads’ – This one is a dark red, finely leaved selection with red veining in the leaves.
‘Yellow Form’ – a chartreuse-colored form. We will probably use ‘Yellow Form’ on our wall because of the pattern we are trying to paint.
Alternanthera ficoidea also goes by several other names, including Bloodleaf Calico Plant, Copperleaf Joyweed, and Parrot Leaf. You may have seen it offered in the garden center in the indoor garden section – It is also an excellent choice as a houseplant.
Have you grown Joseph’s Coat in your garden? What was your experience with this plant?