Synonyms of Perilla frutescens: Ocimum frutescens L., Perilla ocymoides L., Perilla urticifolia Salisb.
Perilla frutescens (L.) Britton is the correct and accepted scientific name for the Beefsteak Plant. It was named and described ad such by Nathaniel Lord Britton in Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club in 1894. It was first named Ocimum frutescens by Carl von Linnaeus in the second volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.
Accepted infraspecific names: Perilla frutescens var. crispa (Thunb.) H.Deane, Perilla frutescens var. frutescens, Perilla frutescens var. hirtella (Nakai) Makino
The genus, Perilla L., was named and described as such by Carl von Linnaeus in the sixth edition of Species Plantarum in 1764.
There is only one species of Perilla listed on Plants of the World Online. It is a member of the Lamiaceae Family with a total of 236 genera. That number is likely to change periodically as plant names are updated.
The above distribution map for Perilla frutescens is from Plants of the World Online. Areas in green are where the species is native and purple where it has been introduced. The map on the USDA Plants Database for North America also includes the state of Washington.
There are several links at the bottom of the page for further reading and better plant ID.
I found a small colony of Perilla frutescens behind the pond at the back of the farm in September 2019. Until 2019, there were always cows in the pastures so many wildflowers I found in 2019 had apparently been eaten before. Even though Perilla frutescens is toxic to cattle, you just never know what they are going to eat. You can’t find a colony of Perilla frutescens just appearing all the sudden even though I hadn’t noticed them before. I was fairly busy over the summer and the pastures had grown up in hay so it was September before I started making wildflower observations here.
Perilla frutescens, commonly known as the Beefsteak Plant, is a summer annual that grows 1-3 feet in height. Currently, it is the only species in the genus as others have been moved to other genera over the years. Plants of the World Online lists three varieties (infraspecific names) of the species which are popular mainly in Asian countries. Perilla frutescens var. crispa, known as Shiso, has the purplish-colored leaves. Perilla frutescens var. hirtella is known as Lemon Perilla.
The stems of this species are a greenish-purple color and have downward-facing hairs (retrorse pubescent). The stems are 4-angled and have a median grove on each side. Plants normally produce many branches which terminate with flowers.
Leaves grow in an opposite formation on the stems and are up to 5″ long x 3″ wide and are heavily serrated. The upper surfaces of the leaves are generally green but may have a purplish tint. The leaves are kind of heart-shaped (ovate-cordate) and taper to a sharp point. The leaves have prominent midribs and many veins giving them a wrinkly appearance. The leaves have a small stem (petiole) that connects them to the main stem of the plant.
The undersurface of the leaves on the plants at the back of the farm appear whitish from the fine hairs. Some information suggests the lower surface of the leaves are purplish-green or entirely purple. The above leaf is mostly “whitish” with a few purple streaks. All the leaves I checked appeared similar.
The above photo shows the hairy stems and you can see the hairs point downward (retrorse). The photo also shows side branches with smaller flower stems growing above them. I am sure there is a botanical term for that. 🙂 You can also see the groove in the main stem.
While I was helping a friend drive cattle on his mother’s farm a few miles away, there was a HUGE colony of Perilla frutescens along the woods at the top of a hill. To say HUGE is actually an understatement. They were LOADED with flowers while the plants on my farm had just begun to bud.
As you can see, the numerous flowering stems terminate with a long inflorescence. I didn’t have time to check leaves and plants over because the cows were heading in my direction.
There are several links at the bottom of the page that describe the flowers in botanical terminology…
Missouri Plants describes their inflorescence as axillary and terminal indeterminate verticillasters to +15cm long. Axis retrorse pubescent (densely), the hairs purple. Hmmm… I looked up “verticillasters” and the answer was “no results found”… You can check out Missouri Plants for their definition better than I can explain it…
The flowers are usually produced two per node and are about 1/8″ long. Again, you can check out the links below for very descriptive information about the flowers.
Once you find this plant and have it correctly identified you will no doubt never forget it. My friend has a lot of these plants on his farm growing in his yard. This is a neat plant but one you may find tends to get a little invasive.
Check out Alternative Nature Online Herbal for A LOT of information about the Perilla frutescens.
I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the farm and other areas. My farm is in Windsor, Missouri in Pettis County (Henry County is across the street and Benton and Johnson aren’t far away). I have grown over 500 different plants and most have pages listed on the right side of the blog. I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a horticulturalist I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.
I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. Some sites may not be up-to-date but they are always a work in progress. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would enjoy hearing from you especially if you notice something is a bit whacky.