Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The chocolate plant

I love it when I get to know a new plant.  Here's another one with which I was previously unfamiliar.

Last fall I attended a meet-up and plant swap with some of my fellow garden bloggers and gardeners.  I came away from that gathering much richer in plants. One of my acquisitions was something called a "chocolate plant."  Admittedly, I was not acquainted with it, but it was a small cutting with pretty leaves.  I took it home with me, and, looking around for some place to plant it, my eyes fell upon my Ficus benjamina which was in a large pot with plenty of room.  I stuck the little plant into the big pot with the medium-sized tree and sort of forgot it.  When the winter turned cold, the pot got pulled into my unheated garage.  By that time there was nothing showing but the ficus.  When the weather turned warm again, I returned the pot to the backyard and one day I noticed there was something besides the tree growing there.  It seemed to be a ground cover of some kind and I had to scratch my head to remember what it was.  Then the light bulb went off - chocolate plant!

I did a little research and learned that the chocolate plant is properly called Pseuderanthemum alatum.  It is a low-growing (about 10 inches tall) herb native to Mexico and Central America.  It is grown primarily for the beauty of its leaves which are coppery-brown with silver blotches.  The leaves can get pretty big, up to 6 inches long by 4.5 inches wide.  My instinct upon seeing it growing in my ficus pot was correct; it is often used as a ground cover.

When my new plant continued to grow this spring and threatened to take over the ficus pot, I lifted it and put it in a 12-inch pot of its own.  It now fills that pot and in the last couple of weeks it has started to put up some bloom spikes.

 Here's an overview of the plant that now makes its home in its pot in my little front entry sitting area.  You can see why it is grown for its leaves.  They are quite showy.

 A side view of the plant shows how it has completely filled its pot.

Here's a close-up of one of the bloom spikes.  These racemes can get to be about 18 inches tall and the blooms open in turn from the bottom to the top.  There don't happen to be any blossoms open today but you can see that a couple of the buds are about to pop open.  When they do open, the flowers look much like African violets.  They are very pretty.

I have found, more or less through trial and error, that the plant seems happiest when it is in partial shade and it likes to be kept moist but not soggy.  The plant did die back completely during last winter, but perhaps that was because it was in a rather cold place.  If I had brought it into the house, it might well have stayed leafy and beautiful all winter.  Some articles I've read indicate that the plants reseed readily.  We'll see about that.  They are mainly propagated by cuttings.

I've enjoyed getting to know this beautiful plant over the last year.  I think it is a keeper, and I look forward to a long-term relationship with it.


  1. It really does have the most fantastic leaves. This is a new plant for me and it's now on my wish list.

  2. I'm wondering if it would do well in the ground here, Bernie. I think it could be a terrific groundcover under trees. I may try some cuttings.