Copperleaf – Acalypha wilkesiana

Copperleaf belongs to the same family as Poinsettia, and grows wild on many of the Pacific Islands. It is a fast-growing, woody shrub with beautifully marked and coloured leaves with pretty, serrated edges.

Copperleaf is grown for its showy foliage and should be kept in a bright position to allow the strong colours to develop. Most plants will produce small tassels of insignificant flowers during late spring and summer, which should be removed as soon as they begin to lose their colour.

Copperleaf can quickly develop into a large shrub, up to 1.8m (oft) tall. It should be pruned annually to keep it looking shapely. Cutting back about half of the previous year’s growth should keep the plant compact. Alternatively, raise new plants from cuttings every year and discard the parent plant. The attractive leaves are 13cm (5in) long with pretty, serrated edges.

The original A. wilkesiana has coppery green leaves speckled with red and purple blotches. Many hybrids are cultivated, some with quite startling colour combinations and patterns on the leaves.Copperleaf - Acalypha wilkesiana

‘Marginata’ has greenish bronze leaves with margins of red and pink; the heart-shaped leaves of ‘Musaica’ are splashed with orange and red; ‘Haleakala’ has crested leaves with deep red markings which appear almost black. ‘Godseffiana’ has shiny green leaves edged with creamy white; ‘Ceylon’ is marbled in green and white.

Looking after your plant

Copperleaf is sensitive to dry conditions, and will indicate this by drooping leaves. It should be watered regularly during the growing period.

Increase humidity by standing the pot on a tray of moist pebbles or by plugging it into an outer container of damp peat. Mist spray daily during warm weather.


Propagate Copperleaf by taking cuttings in early spring.

1 Take 8-10cm (3-4in) long side shoots with a ‘heel’.

2 Dip in hormone rooting powder and plant in individual 8cm (3in) pots containing an equal parts mixture of peat and coarse sand.

3 Cover with a polythene bag and keep at 21°C (70°F). Remove the bag when new growth appears.

4 Pot on into 10cm (4in) pots filled with soil-based compost when cuttings are about 30cm (lft) tall.

Pests And Diseases

Leaves turn pale and sticky ‘webs’ appear on the underside. This is caused by the red spider mite, which can be a serious problem on Copperleaf.

Treatment: Remove the most severely affected leaves and spray the plant thoroughly with a solution of malathion. Pay particular attention to the undersides of the leaves. Repeat at regular intervals until the foliage is clear.

Leaf drop is caused by dry air in the growing environment.

Prevention: Increase the humidity round the plant by misting, plunging or standing the pot on a tray of moist pebbles.

Leaves lose their bright colouring when light levels are low. Treatment: Move the plant to a brighter spot, but shade from direct sun.

White webbing on leaves is caused by mealy bugs.

Treatment: Remove with diluted methylated spirit.


Copperleaf is easy to look after. Give it a warm, light position, regular watering and misting and it will reward you with masses of colourful foliage.

  • Potting: Repot plants annually in late spring. Use one size larger pot filled with soil-based compost. Top-dress large plants in spring.
  • Water generously, keeping the compost evenly moist. Never let the plant stand in water. Water slightly less in winter, but keep the compost moist.
  • Feeding: Feed every 7 days with a liquid fertilizer during the growing period. Do not feed in winter.


  • Light: Stand the plant in bright, indirect light. An east- or west -facing position is ideal. Should the foliage lose colour, move the plant to a brighter spot.
  • Temperature: Copperleaf likes a warm environment and will thrive in central heating providing humidity is high. Do not let winter temperatures fall below 15°C (60°F).

Buying Tips

  • Buy during the growing period from June to September from garden centres and nurseries.
  • Buy small, bushy plants with bright, well-marked foliage. Avoid tall, leggy plants with areas of stems without leaves.
  • Copperleaf will live for many years, but it grows so quickly that it may become too large for your room. Make new plants at regular intervals and discard the parent plant.

The attractive, speckled foliage of Copperleaf comes in a striking mixture of colours: bronze, copper, red, orange, pink and green are combined to create a showy display.

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