Scientific Name: (Iresine herbstii)
Family : Amaranthaceae
Also known as: Chicken Gizzard, Beefsteak, Beetroot Plant or Formosa Bloodleaf
Beefsteak would be tough enough to be known as if you were, in fact, an attractive, quiet sort of non-threatening plant, but Chicken Gizzard? Ya’ simply gotta’ love any plant brave enough to be called that! (Don’t, by the way, be confused with the nearly ten feet (three meters) tall shrub Acalypha wilkesiana from Fiji, also called the Beefsteak Plant.)
Interestingly, while not uncommonly found in viveros and nurseries, it is not all that well written about or documented.
One of eighty in its genus, with most coming from South America or Australia, the Blood Leaf – like the Samba – originated in Brazil but, as a result of its colorful foliage, it is now widely cultivated around the world. (Interestingly, Iresines were introduced to England and France in the mid-1800s and grown in their conservatories and stove houses -heated greenhouses – as exotic treasures. They were most popularly grown during Victorian times and often used in colorful summer bedding arrangements.)
Suffice it to say that it has strikingly beautiful green/purplish-red leaves with contrasting reddish pink veins and petioles. I recently read one person describe it as having “Leaf color (that) varies from a dark purple to beet red with magenta veins.” Perhaps, it’s better that you look at one up close and personal as opposed to me trying to describe this unique color combination!)
Growing up to 6 ½ feet (two meters) in height and three feet (one meter) wide, its long stalked leaves are notched at their ends, either ovate or sub-round and range anywhere from ¾” to four inches (two to ten centimeters) in length. Its small, greenish-white (nonornamental) flowers and hence seeds are only infrequently found in cultivation.
The Iresine herbstii prefers moist, well-drained, organically rich soil in partially shady to sunny, high humidity locales. (But, remember, the more the sun the greater the color and, unless your soil is already high in organic material, for the best possible results, compost or aged manure is a very good thing!)
During the warmer seasons, ensure that the soil is kept evenly moist by regular, deep waterings weekly, in the absence of rain. The best remembered rule of thumb is to “soak the roots then let them dry out”. Beyond that, I’d encourage a two to three inch layer of organic mulch or coconut coir to keep moisture from evaporating as well as minimize need for weeding! With the cooler climes of fall and winter reduce the watering.
The Blood Leaf is best propagated through cuttings. If you’d like a bit bushier plant, pinch off about one inch of the growing tips and any flower spikes. As to fertilizer, use a general all-purpose one (14-14-14 or 20-20-20) every month during the growing season. But don’t overfeed as too many nutrients will place your plant at risk of Powdery Mildew.
Has the Blood Leaf insect enemies? Yep – aphids and spider mites. How does one get rid of these little suckers . . . figuratively and literally speaking? Well, those durned little aphids congregate on the undersides and at the joints of leaves, where they suck the sap from the plant. Their buddies in plant carnage, spider mites, also suck the life from the plant but they are even smaller and more difficult to see with the naked eye. Their presence is obvious by a stippled appearance they leave on the foliage. Both of these uninvited and much unwanted guests can be removed by regular application of an insecticidal soap spray. If at all possible, try to avoid chemical pesticides which can kill beneficial insects such as ladybugs – who we like very much because they just love to chow down on those blasted aphids and spider mites!
There are some popular cultivars for which a gardener might be on the lookout including the Brilliantissima, which has bright red, heart shaped leaves with pink veins and a slightly upright growth; Aureoreticulata that has green leaves with yellow veins; Iresine diffusa ‘Formosana’ with its green and yellow leaves. (In full sun appearing almost totally yellow, while in shade they’re green with
yellow veining) and, Iresine diffusa ‘Verschaffeltii’ with its indented, kidney shaped leaves and a rambling nature.
Used much as a border or bedding plant or as a low hedge, ours is planted to juxtapose its unique leaves against Lacey Leafed Philodendron in the Foxtail Palm planter on our swimming pool terrace.
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Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation – Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.