Alternanthera ficoidea (yellow form)
Common Name: Joseph's coat 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Amaranthaceae
Zone: 10 to 11
Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet
Spread: 0.50 to 1.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Annual, Ground Cover
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Colorful, Evergreen


Tropical perennial that is winter hardy to USDA Zone 10 and is grown exclusively for its colorful foliage. Grow in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best foliage colors are usually developed in full sun, however some bleaching of colors may occur in full sun in hot summer climates. In the St. Louis area, it is typically grown outdoors as an annual (e.g., ground cover, edger or in containers), but may also be grown indoors as a houseplant as long as it is sited in a bright, sunny location and soils are kept moist. Plants may be grown from seed by starting them indoors in late winter and transplanting them outdoors after last frost date. Quality of leaf color may vary considerably and only the best seedlings should be selected for inclusion in the planting. Plant 4-9” apart for ground cover effect. Pinching stems or shearing will keep plants compact and bushy. For those who do not wish to plant seed, some of the more popular varieties are available from nurseries in cell packs or flats. Smaller plants may be potted up and brought inside in winter. In the alternative, tip cuttings may be taken in late summer for overwintering indoors.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Alternanthera ficoidea is a low-growing plant that typically grows on erect to procumbent stems to 6-12” tall. It is native from Mexico to Argentina. Species plants have elliptic to broad ovate green leaves (to 1” long). However it is the brightly colored cultivars that have become the popular garden plants, featuring green leaves blotched with yellow, orange, red, brown, copper or purple, sometimes with red veining. Foliage of the brighter colored cultivars is suggestive of coleus. White apetalous flowers appear stalkless or on short stalks in small axillary clusters in late fall to winter, but are insignificant. Flowers are usually observed in St. Louis only on houseplants or on container plants brought inside for overwintering. Plants in the genus Alternanthera have a rather large number of descriptive common names, including but not limited to Joseph’s coat, copperleaf, calico plant, bloodleaf, joyweed and parrot leaf, all in reference to the brilliantly colored leaves which provide foliage contrast to gardens and container plantings.

Genus name comes from the Latin words alternans meaning "alternating" and anthera meaning "anther", in reference to alternate anthers in the genus are barren.

Specific epithet means resembling fig (Ficus).

The yellow form of this species features chartreuse-yellow foliage.


Slugs, spider mites, and caterpillars are occasional problems. Scout for caterpillar activity in late August.


Bedding plant, edger or containers. Foliage is particularly attractive when plants are massed as a ground cover or edger. Plants of this species have been used since Victorian times in clipped formal plantings. Also can be an attractive houseplant.