Parrot Leaf – Alternanthera ficoidea

The spectacular leaf colours that can be found in the Parrot Leaf and other members of the Alternanthera genus make them most rewarding plants. Easy to grow and propagate, there are indoor and outdoor varieties of the genus to suit many different situations.

Such diversity of colour, form and shape, however, has led to a confusing number of names and types. All these different plants belonging to the same genus come from tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world as far apart as South America, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Australia.

The Parrot Leaf varieties are so-called because of their variegated leaf characteristic — like the bright plumage of the bird itself. The flowers are small and cling tightly to the stems. The lance-shaped leaves are often green but, if the plant’s water and food are reduced, the splendid reds, yellows and golds will soon appear. It grows masses of foliage with slender lance-like wavy edged leaves. It is the wild species of this South American variety which has given rise to many of the cultivated types as they have some of the strongest colours.Parrot Leaf - Alternanthera ficoidea

Quite a few Alternanthera varieties have been developed over the years, all of them low growing with stable, uniform colours, which make them well-suited for both indoor and outdoor garden plants. A. bettzichiana is commonly called Calico Plant and is a shrubby species with olive green and red leaves. A second variety of this species, ‘aurea’, has beautiful pale yellow leaves.

Some varieties of A. versicolor are suitable for outdoor cultivation and form small bushes. These also have red and green variegated foliage.

Another member of the genus, A. tricolor, has a group of brightly coloured hybrids including varieties with such names as ‘Joseph’s Coat’, ‘Molten Fire’ and ‘Salicifolius’.

A. amoena is a Brazilian species which can be red, orange or yellow.

Display ideas

Group several different species together to make a really dramatic display. Alternatively, place one specimen plant with green foliage plants as a backdrop to show it off to best effect.


Alternantheras are at their best when young and growing strongly. For this reason, it is best to propagate from cuttings every year.

Take tip cuttings at any time and root in moist compost in warm temperatures of about 21°C (70°F) or keep shoots in water until roots sprout.

Older plants do not overwinter well, so new shoots may be weak and slow to appear in the early spring. Take a few cuttings in August and these can give you a good stock of strong young plants to provide cuttings the following spring.

Pests And Diseases

Leaf colour failing to develop or fading means that the plant is likely to be suffering from a lack of light. Alternatively, you may be overwatering or overfeeding it.

Treatment: Reduce the frequency of watering and stop feeding until leaf colour returns. Move the plant to a better position.

Scorched leaves can be caused by direct sunlight, especially if the plant has just been misted.

Treatment: While the plants need a lot of good light to produce the best foliage, it might be a good idea to move the plant to a more suitable position.

The plant becomes straggly and loses it bushy shape.

Prevention: Cut back the stems and pinch out shoots.


These plants are easy to grow but need good, strong light to produce the best leaf colours. Keep a little short of food and water to give the most impressive results.

  • Potting: Pot in soil-based compost which drains well. Although they can be transplanted, they do not overwinter well. It is best to produce new plants each season from cuttings.
  • To produce the deepest and most pronounced leaf colours the plants must be underwatered slightly. Water only when the compost is dry but do not let the plant droop. Mist regularly with tepid water.
  • Feeding: Do not feed the plant if you are keeping it only one season. Feeding can reduce the variegation that appears on the leaves.


  • Light: These plants must have plenty of bright light to produce the most striking leaf colouring. Direct sunlight in summer may scorch the leaves, especially after misting.
  • Temperature: Room temperatures are adequate but the plants do better in conservatories or garden rooms. They need a minimum winter temperature of 16°-18°C (60°-65°F).

Buying Tips

  • Buy in spring when the plants are young.
  • Choose plants with good leaf colour which indicates they have been well tended.
  • Although these plants are perennials, the best specimens are obtained by propagation from cuttings each year.

An enchanting, heat-loving plant that spreads to form deep coppery red mats of thin leaves, Parrot Leaf brightens up a light window ledge or conservatory.

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