Plectranthus scutellarioides (syn. Coleus blumei) | ‘Coleus’, ‘Flame Nettle’ | Rooted plant
This wonderful Plectranthus scutellarioides is a vibrantly-coloured, bushy flowering plant of the Lamiaceae family. Informally known as ‘Coleus’, ‘Flame Nettle’ and ‘Painted Nettle’, it’s an incredibly beautiful plant which is native to Australia, Burma, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, where it prefers an altitude of between 100 and 1,600 metres. Reflecting the popularity of the species as an ornamental, it possesses a huge number of synonyms, of which the most common include Coleus blumei and Solenostemon scutellarioides. Other synonyms locate the species variously within the Calchas, Germanea, Majana, Ocimum and Perilla.
Reaching up to one metre in diameter once mature, scutellarioides is an upright, branching perennial which, like Salvia divinorum (with which it is traditionally cultivated in Mexico), usually produces four-sided, square-ish stems, becoming woodier at the base as they mature. This species is widely grown both commercially and for pleasure for its exquisitely decorative, truly psychedelic variegated leaves, which grow to roughly ten centimetres long by six centimetres or so across.
Ovate to spear-shaped, slightly hairy and very variable in colour and margin, this lush foliage never ceases to amaze – and was the reason this was the first species we ever propagated from cuttings, when we were very young! This variegation has become further pronounced through the various cultivars developed by man and may feature a literal rainbow of colours, including blue, burgundy, cream, green, maroon, orange, pink, purple, red, yellow, white and more! Patterning varies from almost perfectly symmetrical to utterly random, earning several Plectranthus scutellarioides cultivars the British Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. Small blue-green-purple, stemmed flowers appear between early summer and late autumn, reaching up to several centimetres in length and followed by tiny (roughly one millimetre in diameter) black fruits.
The species is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 10-11, but can be grown easily from Zone 7, as long as temperatures don’t fall below 10°C (50°F). Plant in moist but well-drained, mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soil in full sun to partial shade. While it is possible to grow ‘Coleus’ from seed or cuttings, we prefer the latter, both for ease of striking roots and for retaining ‘true’ cultivar genetics. Root the cuttings in water – we’ve a guide in our Info section if you’re unfamiliar with the whole process. As this plant will start to die subsequent to flowering, pinch out any that you notice starting to form. The overall appearance of the plant benefits from regular pinching of the growing tips too, keeping it nice and bushy rather than allowing it to grow stragglier. Fertilise with a standard fertiliser every three months or so for best results.
It should be noted that different ‘Coleus’ varieties will contain varying quantities of essential oils in the leaves, which can cause skin irritation and – if ingested in large amounts – diarrhoea and vomiting. We’ve never come across this ourselves, however!
Grown from our mother plants in sunny Spain and the UK!