Skip to main content

This exotic evergreen gets its common name from the French chenille, meaning hairy caterpillar, whilst also referring to the velvety strands of chenille yarn. This soft, tufted yarn has the characteristic texture and appearance echoed in the pendulous flowering tassels of chenille plant.

Acalypha hispida (chenille plant)

[FZ]

Euphorbiaceae, A. Radcliffe-Smith. Flora Zambesiaca 9:4. 1996

Morphology General Habit
A much-branched shrub up to 2 m tall, dioecious.
Morphology General Shoots
Young shoots and petioles tomentose, later sparingly puberulous or glabrescent.
Morphology Leaves Petiole
Petioles up to 15 cm long; leaf blades up to 20 × 15 cm, broadly ovate or rhombic-ovate, shortly acuminate at the apex, serrate on the margins, rounded or cuneate at the base, 5–7-nerved from the base, thinly chartaceous, sparingly pubescent to subglabrous on both surfaces, more evenly pubescent along the midrib and main veins; lateral nerves in 6–9 pairs.
Morphology Leaves Stipules
Stipules 6–7 mm long, lanceolate, sparingly pubescent, brown.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Male inflorescences unknown. Female inflorescences up to 30 cm long, spicate, axillary, solitary, dense-flowered, bright red on account of the masses of styles; axis sparingly pubescent; female bracts minute, ovate, acute, entire, not accrescent.
sex Male
Male inflorescences unknown.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Female flowers sessile; sepals 3–4, 0.7 mm long, triangular-ovate, acute, ciliate; ovary 1 mm in diameter, 3-lobed to subglobose, densely pubescent; styles 5–7 mm long, ± free to the base, laciniate, bright red.
sex Female
Female flowers sessile; sepals 3–4, 0.7 mm long, triangular-ovate, acute, ciliate; ovary 1 mm in diameter, 3-lobed to subglobose, densely pubescent; styles 5–7 mm long, ± free to the base, laciniate, bright red. Female inflorescences up to 30 cm long, spicate, axillary, solitary, dense-flowered, bright red on account of the masses of styles; axis sparingly pubescent; female bracts minute, ovate, acute, entire, not accrescent.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Mature fruit and seeds not known.

[CPLC]

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Distribution
Cultivada en Colombia; Alt. 100 - 1600 m.; Andes, Islas Caribeñas, Llanura del Caribe, Pacífico, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Morphology General Habit
Arbusto

[FTEA]

Euphorbiaceae, A. R.-Smith. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1987

Morphology General Habit
A much-branched dioecious shrub up to 2 m.
Morphology General Shoots
Young shoots tomentose, later sparingly puberulous or glabrescent.
Morphology Leaves
Petioles 1–5 cm. long; leaf-blade broadly ovate or rhomboid-ovate, 9–15 cm. long, (4.5–)7–11 cm. wide, subacutely acuminate, rounded or cuneate, serrate, thinly chartaceous, 5-nerved from the base, lateral nerves 6–9 pairs, subglabrous or sparingly pubescent above and beneath, more evenly so along the midrib and main veins, and densely so in the axils of the veins beneath, veins reddish.
Morphology Leaves Stipules
Stipules lanceolate, 6–7 mm. long, sparingly pubescent, brown.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescences spicate, axillary, solitary, ♂’s not seen; ♀’s up to 30 cm. long, densely flowered, bright red by virtue of the masses of styles; axis sparingly pubescent; ♀ bracts minute, ovate, acute, entire, not accrescent.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Female flowers sessile; sepals 3–4, triangular-ovate, 0.7 mm. long, acute, ciliate; ovary subglobose-trilobate, 1 mm. diameter, densely pubescent; styles ± free to the base, 5–7 mm. long, laciniate, bright red.
sex Female
Female flowers sessile; sepals 3–4, triangular-ovate, 0.7 mm. long, acute, ciliate; ovary subglobose-trilobate, 1 mm. diameter, densely pubescent; styles ± free to the base, 5–7 mm. long, laciniate, bright red.
Distribution
widely cultivated in the tropics generallycountry of origin not known for certain, but possibly the Bismarck Archipelago T3 T6

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

This exotic evergreen gets its common name from the French chenille, meaning hairy caterpillar, whilst also referring to the velvety strands of chenille yarn. This soft, tufted yarn has the characteristic texture and appearance echoed in the pendulous flowering tassels of chenille plant.

It is also known by the common name 'red hot cat's tail', in relation to the dense and fluffy appearance of the inflorescences (flowering parts), thought by some to be reminiscent of a cat's tail.

The generic name Acalypha is from the Greek for nettle, as nettle leaves are similar to those of some Acalypha species. The specific epithet hispida derives from the Latin hispidus, meaning hairy or bristly, which describes the appearance of the drooping red inflorescences.

Chenille plant is a cultigen (a plant that has been altered by humans through a process of selective breeding) and its exact origin is unknown. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental for its decorative, colourful and texturally exciting flowers.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

The exact origin of Acalypha hispida is unknown. It is possibly native to Malesia (a floristic region that includes the Malay Peninsula, the Malay Archipelago, New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago).

It has been introduced to many other tropical countries and is naturalised in the tropical regions of Africa, America and Asia.

Description

Overview: A showy, tropical shrub up to 3 m tall and 3 m wide, but generally kept smaller in cultivation by pruning. Vigorous, erect, sparsely branched with smooth, green bark. Inflorescences are unisexual and plants are likely to be dioecious: producing distinct staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers on separate plants (although only female plants are known).

Leaves: Evergreen, oval, 10-23 cm long and 7.5-10.0 cm wide, with coarsely toothed edges and a pointed tip. Bright green above, pale green below. Borne alternately along the stems.

Flowers: Borne in attractive, pendant catkin-like inflorescences, 30-50 cm long by 0.8-1.0 cm wide, ranging in colour from deep purple to bright red. Individual female flowers about 1 mm wide, lacking in petals but bearing feathery, brightly coloured stigmas, are borne in tight clusters on the axis of the inflorescence. These showy, velvety catkins are produced sporadically throughout the year. They are very long-lasting, gradually fading and browning as they age.

Fruits: Only female specimens are known, and fruits and seeds have not been recorded.

Uses

Ornamental

Chenille plant is widely cultivated as an ornamental, for its long, slender, drooping inflorescences. A perennial with a long flowering-period, it is often used as a centrepiece for tropical or subtropical gardens. With proper care and favourable conditions, it will bloom several times a year. It is commonly used as an accent, for informal borders and hedges, or as a specimen or container plant.

It has been given the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit for its excellent use as a decorative garden plant.

Traditional medicine

Acalypha hispida has been used in traditional remedies, as a laxative, diuretic, expectorant (for asthma) and in the treatment of leprosy and kidney ailments. The bark, flowers and roots have been used to create medicines for the relief of asthma symptoms. The roots have been boiled and the resulting liquid drunk to treat dysentery.

In Indonesia, a root and flower decoction is used to stop patients coughing up blood. In Africa, a poultice of the leaves is used to treat leprosy. In Malaysia, a decoction of leaves and flowers is externally applied to treat wounds and ulcers and is taken internally as a laxative and as a diuretic.

Western medicine

Research into the medicinal properties of chenille plant has revealed a range of possible uses. Scientific research has established the antifungal properties and antimicrobial activity of extracts of leaves, supporting their use in the treatment of thrush, wounds and ulcers. Alcoholic extracts of chenille plant have been reported to be biologically active against bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa , Escherichia coli , Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella typhi. Screenings to determine the chemical properties of aqueous and leaf methanolic extracts showed the presence of phenolics, flavonoids, glycosides, steroids, saponins, phlobatannins and hydroxyanthraquinones, which indicate its potential use in healthcare. A recent scientific investigation revealed that chenille plant could be a potential source of antioxidants, used as a future therapy against diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease.

Cultivation

As only female plants are grown, chenille plant must be propagated via cuttings. At Kew, specimens are grown in the glasshouses at high temperature and high humidity. Plants require regular watering, feeding and pruning to keep them healthy and in a good shape.

As older specimens deteriorate they are replaced with new cuttings. Softwood cuttings are taken in early spring, while semi-hardwood cuttings are taken in late summer.

In warmer climates, chenille plant can be grown outdoors in fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil, in sun or part shade.

This species at Kew

Chenille plant can be seen growing in Kew's Palm House and Waterlily House.

A specimen of Acalypha hispida wood is held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection, where it is available to researchers by appointment.

Dried and spirit-preserved specimens of Acalypha species are held in Kew's Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

Distribution
Malaysia, Papua New Guinea
Ecology
Only known in cultivation; naturalised on roadsides and in secondary forest.
Conservation
Widespread in cultivation (but only females plants are known).
Hazards

None known.

[UNAL]

Bernal, R., G. Galeano, A. Rodríguez, H. Sarmiento y M. Gutiérrez. 2017. Nombres Comunes de las Plantas de Colombia. http://www.biovirtual.unal.edu.co/nombrescomunes/

Vernacular
amaranto de arbolito, cola de gato, combo, cordón de obispo, cresta de gallo, gusanillo, gusano, navidad, rabo de mico, suspiro, torbellino

[KSP]
Use
Ornamental, medicinal.

Native to:

Bismarck Archipelago

Introduced into:

Andaman Is., Bangladesh, Benin, Burundi, Caroline Is., Cayman Is., Comoros, Cook Is., Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Gilbert Is., Gulf of Guinea Is., Haiti, Leeward Is., Madagascar, Marianas, Marquesas, Marshall Is., Nicobar Is., Puerto Rico, Society Is., Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad-Tobago, Tuamotu, Tubuai Is., Venezuelan Antilles

English
Chenille plant

Acalypha hispida Burm.f. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
s.coll. [s.n.] K000959066
s.coll. [s.n.] K000959067
s.coll. [s.n.], Bismarck Archipelago K000959065 Unknown type material

First published in Fl. Indica: 303 (1768)

Accepted by

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Baksh-Comeau, Y., Maharaj, S.S., Adams, C.D., Harris, S.A., Filer, D.L. & Hawthorne, W.D. (2016). An annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Trinidad and Tobago with analysis of vegetation types and botanical 'hotspots' Phytotaxa 250: 1-431.
  • Barberá, P., Velayos, M. & Aedo, C. (2013). Annotated checklist and identification keys of the Acalyphoideae (Euphorbiaceae) of Equatorial Guinea (Annobón, Bioko and Río Muni) Phytotaxa 140: 1-25.
  • Cardiel, J.M. & Muñoz Rodríguez, P. (2012). Synopsis of Acalypha (Euphorbiaceae) of continental Ecuador PhytoKeys 17: 1-17.
  • Chayamarit, K. & Van Welzen, P.C. (2005). Euphorbiaceae (Genera A-F) Flora of Thailand 8(1): 1-303. The Forest Herbarium, National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Bangkok.
  • Florence, J. (1997). Flore de la Polynésie Française 1: 1-393. ORSTOM éditions, Paris.
  • Govaerts, R. (1995). World Checklist of Seed Plants 1(1, 2): 1-483, 1-529. MIM, Deurne.
  • Govaerts, R., Frodin, D.G. & Radcliffe-Smith, A. (2000). World Checklist and Bibliography of Euphorbiaceae (and Pandaceae) 1-4: 1-1622. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Jones, M. (1991). A checklist of Gambian plants: 1-33. Michael Jones, The Gambia College.
  • Masharabu, T., Bigendako, M.J., Lejoly, J., Nkengurutse, J., Noret, N., Bizuru, E. & Bogaert, J. (2010). Etude analytique de la flore et de la végétation du Parc National de la Ruvubu, Burundi International Journal of Biological and Chemical Sciences 4: 834-856.
  • Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013). Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh, Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  • Pandey, R.P. & Dilwakar, P.G. (2008). An integrated check-list flora of Andaman and Nicobar islands, India Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 32: 403-500.
  • Sagun, V.G., Levin, G.A. & van Welzen, P.C. (2010). Revision and phylogeny of Acalypha (Euphorbiaceae) in Malesia Blumea 55: 21-60.
  • Smith, A.C. (1981). Flora Vitiensis Nova. A new flora for Fiji (Spermatophytes only) 2: 1-810. Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden, Lawai.
  • Stevens, W.D., Ulloa U., C., Pool, A. & Montiel, O.M. (2001). Flora de Nicaragua Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 85: i-xlii, 1-2666.
  • Welsh, S.L. (1998). Flora Societensis: 1-420. E.P.S. Inc. Utah.

Literature

Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia

  • ColPlantA (2021). "ColPlantA. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; http://www.colplanta.org/"

Kew Species Profiles

  • Adesina, S. K., Idowu, O., Ogundaini, A. O., Oladimeji, H., Olugbade, T. A. & Onawunmi, G.O. (2000). Antimicrobial constituents of the leaves of Acalypha wilkesiana and Acalypha hispida. Phytotherapy Research 14: 371–374.
  • Fayaz, A. (2011). Encyclopaedia of Tropical Plants: Identification and Cultivation of over 3000 Tropical Plants. University of New South Wales Press Ltd., Sydney, Australia.
  • Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1997). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, Volume 1 (A–C). The Stockton Press, New York.
  • Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
  • Onocha, P., Oloyede, G. & Afolabi, Q. (2011). Phytochemical investigation, cytotoxicity and free radical scavenging activities of non polar fractions of Acalypha hispida (leaves and twigs). EXCLI Journal 10: 1–8.
  • Quattrocchi, U. (2012). CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms and Etymology. CRC Press (Taylor and Francis Group), USA.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Baksh-Comeau, Y., Maharaj, S.S., Adams, C.D., Harris, S.A., Filer, D.L. & Hawthorne, W.D. (2016). An annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Trinidad and Tobago with analysis of vegetation types and botanical 'hotspots' Phytotaxa 250: 1-431.
  • Barberá, P., Velayos, M. & Aedo, C. (2013). Annotated checklist and identification keys of the Acalyphoideae (Euphorbiaceae) of Equatorial Guinea (Annobón, Bioko and Río Muni) Phytotaxa 140: 1-25.
  • Barthelat, F. (2019). La flore illustrée de Mayotte: 1-687. Biotope éditions.
  • Cardiel, J.M. & Muñoz Rodríguez, P. (2012). Synopsis of Acalypha (Euphorbiaceae) of continental Ecuador PhytoKeys 17: 1-17.
  • Florence, J. (1997). Flore de la Polynésie Française 1: 1-393. ORSTOM éditions, Paris.
  • Fosberg, F.R., Sachet, M.-H., Oliver, R. (1979). A geographical checklist of the Micronesian Dicotyledonae Micronesica; Journal of the College of Guam 15: 41-295.
  • Jones, M. (1991). A checklist of Gambian plants: 1-33. Michael Jones, The Gambia College.
  • Masharabu, T., Bigendako, M.J., Lejoly, J., Nkengurutse, J., Noret, N., Bizuru, E. & Bogaert, J. (2010). Etude analytique de la flore et de la végétation du Parc National de la Ruvubu, Burundi International Journal of Biological and Chemical Sciences 4: 834-856.
  • Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013). Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh, Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  • Pandey, R.P. & Dilwakar, P.G. (2008). An integrated check-list flora of Andaman and Nicobar islands, India Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 32: 403-500.
  • Welsh, S.L. (1998). Flora Societensis: 1-420. E.P.S. Inc. Utah.

Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Burm.f., Fl. Indica: 203, t. 61, fig. 1 (1768).
  • J.P.M. Brenan, Check-lists of the Forest Trees and Shrubs of the British Empire no. 5, part II, Tanganyika Territory p. 196 (1949).
  • Muell. Arg. in DC., Prodr. 15(2): 815 (1866).
  • Pax in A. Engler, Das Pflanzenreich IV. 147(16): 140 (1924).
  • Troupin, Fl. Rwanda 2: 196, t. 57/1 (1983).

Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Colombian resources for Plants made Accessible
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Flora Zambesiaca
Flora Zambesiaca
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Flora of Tropical East Africa
Flora of Tropical East Africa
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Science Photographs
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Universidad Nacional de Colombia
ColPlantA database
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0