Ruby Leaf, Parrot Leaf, Calico Plant, Joy Weed
Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’
Alternanthera brasiliana (L.) Kuntze is the correct and accepted name for this species of Alternanthera. It was described by Carl Ernst Otto Kuntz in Revisio Generum Plantarum in 1891. This species was first named Gomphrena brasiliana by Carl von Linnaeus and was described in Centuria II Plantarum in 1756.
When I did my first research on this plant the most accepted scientific name appeared to be Alternanthera dentata (Moench) Scheygrond (That was before The Plant List came out). It was named and described by *Arie Scheygrond in Flora of Suriname in 1932. It was earlier described as Alternanthera dentata (Moench) Stuchlík ex R.E.Fr. by Jaroslav Stuchlík then by Klas Robert Elias Fries in Repertorium Specierum Novarum Regni Vegetabilis in 1913 giving credit to Stuchlík’s description. The basionym was Gomphrena dentata Moench as named and described by Conrad Moench in Supplementum ad Methodum in 1802.
*The link to Arie Scheygrond is in German, so you will need to use the Google translator (just type in “translate German to English” and you will find it easily).
The genus, Alternanthera Forssk., was named and described by Pehr Forsskål in Flora Aegyptiaco-Arabica in 1775. Plants of the World Online lists 124 accepted species in the genus.
Supposedly Alternanthera brasiliana (L.) Kuntze is the official correct and accepted scientific name although there are many websites that are still using Alternanthera dentata. Umm… Including the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder. Most websites using Alternanthera dentata are online sources of plants. You know how the industry hates to change scientific names… Maybe they print so many labels and want to use them up. 🙂
I first grew this plant in 2008 while living with my brother in St. Paul, Minnesota. It grew HUGE and I brought it inside for the winter where it continued to grow and even flowered. After seeing the flowers, you would realize why Linnaeus put it in the genus Gomphrena. Maybe you have heard of or grown Gomphrena ‘Strawberry Fields’…. Well, those flowers are red and the Alternanthera’s flowers are white, but similar in appearance. BUT, in the garden, when grown as an annual, only in warmer climates will you see them flower because they don’t flower until VERY late in the season.
Origin: Parts of Mexico, Central and South America, West Indies….
Zones: USDA Zones 10-11. Usually grown as an annual or houseplant
Size: 18-36” tall. Can be trimmed to suit.
Light: Sun to part shade
Soil: Average well-drained soil or potting mix
Water: Average. Prefers moist soil but also drought tolerant. If grown in pots, water at least when the top part of the soil becomes dry.
In more light, the leaves are a dark maroon but in more shade, they are greener. These plants also need a little trimming as they will become leggy. Cut them back once in a while and they will keep a nice bushy shape. Cuttings easily take root, too. I had some growing and ready in the sunroom when I had to give them away and move to Missouri in February 2013.
There are several common names for this plant including Ruby Leaf, Parrot Leaf, Calico Plant and Joy Weed but I just called it Alternanthera. ‘Purple Knight’s is the cultivar name for the plants I have grown. Other cultivar names include ‘Red Marble’, Gail’s Choice’, ‘Rubiginosa’, ‘Royal Tapestry’, ‘Little Ruby’ and probably others.
As an herb, this plant was used in Brazilian medicine for inflammation, cough, and diarrhea. It’s wound healing ability has also been studied.
I have not seen any of these plants at any of the local greenhouses or garden centers since I moved back here. What a shame since this is a very good plant to grow in flower beds and containers. They are available online as plants and seeds.
I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant.