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Plectranthus spp. (plek-TRAN-thus)

Swedish ivy, creeping Charlie, Swedish begonia, prostrate coleus, spur flower.

Plectranthuses are perennial plants often used as groundcovers and in indoor hanging baskets because of their trailing nature. They feature light-green leaves that are oval- to heart-shaped with scalloped edges. The stems are fleshy and can grow up to three feet in length. The genus Plectranthus includes more than 350 species. Some varieties are all-green while others feature distinctive markings such as white veins and purple undersides or white margins. Some Plectranthuses will flower with tubular blooms.

With proper care, these plants can live indoors for months and even up to three to five years.

Plectranthuses are available year-round.

LIGHT Average indoor light is appropriate. Keep the plants out of direct sun.
WATER In spring through fall, keep the soil slightly moist at all times. Water less frequently in winter.
TEMPERATURE Average indoor temperatures are appropriate; avoid temperatures below
55 F.
HUMIDITY Mist the leaves occasionally
FERTILIZER Feed every two weeks with a balanced houseplant fertilizer in spring and summer. Cut back to monthly feedings in fall and winter.
PRUNING Pinch back the stem tips to encourage a bushy growth pattern.
PROPOGATION Plectranthuses can be propagated through stem cuttings, or the plants can be divided.
REPOTTING Repot every couple of years, or as needed, in spring or midsummer.

PESTS AND PROBLEMS Watch for mealybugs, spider mites and scale insects. Keep plants adequately hydrated, including the humidity level, and treat any problems immediately, if they occur, by removal with a cotton swab or insecticide as indicated. Isolating the plant and pruning problem areas also may help contain an infestation.
LEAF PROBLEMS Dull, droopy leaves may be caused by too much light, so choose a bright but indirect source. Wilting that isn’t corrected with watering may be an indication of root rot, which can be caused by overwatering. Root stem cuttings from any healthy branches, and discard the parent plant.

P. argentatus (quick silver, silver dollar) - This Australian species has short silver hairs on its branches and leaves. The leaves are finely toothed ovals, and the plants produce blue and white flowers.
P. australis - Its quilted leaves are glossy green with scalloped edges. This plant produces tubular lilac and white blooms.
P. ciliatus - The leaves of this South African species are bronze-green on top and purple beneath. Tubular mauve flowers appear in summer and fall.
P. coleoides ‘Marginatus’ - A broad white edge distinguishes this variety’s ripple-toothed leaves, which also feature a hairy surface.
P. oertendahlii (Swedish ivy, Brazilian coleus, prostrate coleus) - A perennial from South Africa, this plant has toothed leaves with prominent white veins and purple undersides. Its flowers are pink to mauve.

FAMILY Plectranthuses are members of the Lamiaceae, or Labiatae (mint), family. Common relatives include Coleus, mint, Salvia, thyme, lamb’s ear (Stachys), germander, rosemary, bee balm (Melissa) and Oswego-tea (Monarda).
WHAT'S IN A NAME The genus name Plectranthus comes from the Greek roots “plectron,” meaning “spur,” and “anthos,” meaning “flower.” This refers to the spur that often is found at the base of the flower petals. The common name Swedish ivy refers to the plants’ popularity in that Scandinavian country.
HOME SWEET HOME The plants are native to Africa, Asia and Australia.

Some information provided by:
Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
The Chain of Life Network®,
The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, by Barbara Pleasant
The House Plant Expert, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
The Houseplant Encyclopedia, by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Krüger

Photos courtesy of The John Henry Company

You may reach Foliage Plant of the Month writer Amy Bauer by e-mail at or by phone at (800) 355-8086.


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