Kiwi Fern

'Kiwi Fern' Coleus,
Flame Nettle, or Painted Nettle

"The turf was hemmed with an edge of scarlet geranium & coleus, & cast-iron vases painted in chocolate colour, standing at intervals along the winding path."

from Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton


Solenostemon scutellarioides was formerly called Coleus blumei or Coleus scutellarioides. The cloned cultivar 'Kiwi Fern' is sometimes listed as Coleus x hybridus 'Kiwi Fern.' Although as a genus name Coleus is outdated, it remains the common name.

Kiwi Fern'Kiwi Fern' is from the Stained Glassworks series developed by Paul Ecke Ranch, the company most famed for its poinsettias. Unlike most coleus varieties, it has deeply dissected leaves which give it its ruffled or ferny appearance.

Like other fancy-leaf coleuses, 'Kiwi Fern' is typically sold as an annual, or defined as a tender perennial or even as a tropical, originating in Malaysia. In a temperate gardens it dies in the winter. But if kept in a container it can be brought indoors before it is stricken by winter temperatures, & will retain its beauty year-round.

The color is very purple with yellow edges, & occasional little whisps of green along the yellow edges. Unlike most coleuses which are grown all but exclusively for the leaves, 'Kiwi Fern' is quite free-flowering in summer (July through September on our shaded patio), with three to six inch spikes of showy baby-blue blossoms quite striking against the foliage.

It grows two or two & a feet high, quite compactly leafed, usually very upright & not too wide. Occasional pinching will insure it remains well branched & not at all leggy.

It wants moisture-rententive humusy soil. It can tolerate quite a bit of sun, but the startling leaf colors will be most spectacular in partial to deep shade. In spring to mid summer it can benefit by regular nitrogen rich fertilizing.

Very well-rooted small potted starts are usually cheap enough (& rapid enough in their growth) to use as edger or bedding plants even in zones where they won't perennialize. It is easily propogated from cuttings, first rooted in water then in individual little pots. But starts that are not already well-rooted before going outdoors may be too tender to get going, or very slow to to bulk up, so wouldn't be as quickly successful as would faster-growing varieties without the dissected leaves.

Ours coleuses are potted & we bring them in at the first sign of frost. Some gardeners take autumn cuttings & root them indoors, so they will be well along the following spring to replace the previous year's bedding plants. In areas where winter temperatures don't fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 10-11 in a humid region), coleus can be grown as evergreen perennials.


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