The Chenille Plant of Malaysia

This eye-catching shrubby ornamental plant is ideal for hanging baskets

The Malaysian Chenille Plant is perfect for North American hanging baskets

Acalypha hispida, commonly called the chenille plant and native to Malaysia and New Guinea, is grown as a shrubby ornamental in tropical gardens around the world.

This particular picture was taken in a private garden in Puerto Vallarta.

Like so many tropical plants it has found its way into the summer hanging-basket market in Canada and the United States. It truly is a natural plant for baskets: when elevated the extraordinary flowers can be viewed up close and personal.

It should be stressed that while it is from tropical climes it cannot tolerate full sun all day long, so try to have the hanging basket under the eaves of the house where it is protected from high-noon afternoon summer sun, preferably on the east side of a building or under an arbour.

Acalypha prefers a good compost-rich soil mix, and in a hanging basket once established (meaning fully rooted) requires light but frequent liquid feedings of a soluble organic fertilizer added to the water say every third watering throughout the summer.

While Acalypha is an annual in northern climates, if you have a cool greenhouse it is possible to save one as a stock plant, allowing you to take softwood cuttings in early spring so that they will be ready to pot out for the summer.

The chenille plant is also a good candidate for larger exotic patio containers in lightly shaded areas.

If you can’t locate this particular species, look for Acalypha pendula, which is native to Cuba with smaller but equally interesting flowers. There is a named cultivar sold as ‘Strawberry Firetails’.