Chenille Plants can be warm and comforting

December 7, 2011
The Chenille Plant is a fast-growing houseplant that has bright green leaves and six-inch long drooping red or white flowering catkins, which are fuzzy just like a caterpillar. The fuzzy catkin flowers can grow up to 18 inches long. BY SUBMITTED

Winter in the garden can often be dreary and cold, sending us huddling under a cozy bedspread of tufted chenille.  Chenille bedspreads were first made by a young woman from Dalton, Ga. named Catherine Evans, who in 1892 created her own version of a vintage candle wicked spread.

Her tufted handiwork had a fuzzy comforting look like a caterpillar, so the fabric became known as “chenille,” the French word for caterpillar. The cozy house wouldn’t be complete without old-fashioned plants to match the old-fashioned chenille comforters and throws.

Enter Acalypha hispida the "Chenille Plant." This fast growing houseplant has bright green leaves and six-inch long drooping red or white flowering catkins, which are fuzzy just like a caterpillar. The fuzzy catkin flowers can grow up to 18 inches long so hanging baskets show off the flowers best.  You can also set your plant on a stand so that it can droop down the sides of the pot. To encourage continuous blooming, remove old and dead blooms as needed.

Chenille Plant needs lots of sunshine to keep flowering, so the more light it gets, the better.  It will do perfectly fine in partial sun too. Chenille Plant blooms heaviest summer through fall. If your plant stops blooming, move it to a spot with direct morning sun or indirect afternoon sun in a south- or west-facing window.  Rotate the pot every week so that the plant doesn’t lean towards the light.

Avoid drafts or very low (dry) humidity. You can mist the plant to increases humidity especially on dry winter days.

Chenille plants are often available as houseplants at nurseries, garden centers and through mail order houses.

A chenille robe is a great gift, but then again so is a chenille plant. Chenille plant cuttings root easily. Take cuttings during late winter or early spring.  Five inch cuttings are ideal for rooting in a mix of half-sand and half-peat moss.   Cover each potted cutting with a plastic bag to keep moisture level up. Place potted cuttings in indirect light.

Chenille plants can be attacked by spider mites. Left unchecked they can kill a plant. Daily misting will discourage spider mites and keep your plant healthier by increasing humidity.  Spray any infected plants with a mix of rubbing alcohol and water.  Be sure to cover all of the leaves front and back.  You can also dab this rubbing alcohol and water solution onto the plant with cotton balls or a moist cloth.

Water your Chenille Plant daily to keep the soil moist. Never let your plant get too dry or wilt. When your plants are actively growing, during spring and summer, you can fertilize every two weeks.  Use a water-soluble fertilizer diluted half strength with water. Do not fertilize during the winter months when plant growth is slower.

Like many houseplants, Chenille Plants are mildly toxic, so a hanging basket also helps keep them away from pets and small children.   In the spring, cut back severely to four to eight inches to encourage new growth and more blooms.

Your Chenille Plant with soft, fuzzy trailing blooms just begs to be touched on a cold winter day, and is as comforting as a warm chenille robe.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.