Plants Called Joseph’s Coat for Summer Gardens: Amaranthus Tricolor and Alternanthera Ficoidea Have Colorful Leaves

Alternanathera ficoidea and Amaranthus tricolor are different genera but many gardeners like to use the name, Joseph’s Coat when referring to either. Both are easy to grow annual plants with colorful leaves, the flowers considered unimportant and both prefer to be planted in full sun.

However, each of these plants has several related species and cultivars with other characteristics. Gardeners will have more success with locating the correct plant and specific features or cultural needs by using the botanical name.

Alternanthera Ficoidea

Hardy in zones 10 – 11, Alternanthera ficoidea is a tender perennial plant treated as an annual in many gardens. The plant is not grown for the flowers.

The leaves are rounded and wide then taper to a long petiole. In this species, the leaves are green but there are many cultivars with colorful combinations. The plant has a rounded habit, growing to six to twelve inches tall.

Alternanthera ficoidea prefers full sun planted in well draining soil. The plant has no diseases but a good haircut or shear to keep it compact is a recommended maintenance suggestion.

Alternanthera makes a good indoor plant for a bright light window. It is easy to take cuttings from outdoor plants. Here are two examples with interesting foliage for any garden:

  • ‘Red Thread’ is a short mounding plant, good for edging a garden bed. The plant’s leaves are long and narrow with a dark purple red color.
  • ‘Purple Knight’ grows up to twenty inches and spreads up to three feet. The purple color becomes increasingly more burgundy bronze in part shade situations. Pink iridescent colored flowers like petunias or inpatients will light up a dark area.

Amaranthus Tricolor

Amaranthus tricolor is a tall plant growing 1 ½ ‘ – 5’ with an 18” – 24” spread. The long variegated leaves are colored in shades of scarlet and gold on green.

Root rot and stem borer issues are serious disease issues. The plant grows best in average to dry but well draining soil. This plant will grow well part of a sustainable garden for the summer.

This large dramatic plant can be used as a background plant or single specimen. Especially because of its height, this plant may need staking and will not do well on a windy site. These are some ideas for Amaranthus:

  • tricolor ‘Joseph’s Coat’ has slightly different leaf colors than the species. Cream, scarlet and green highlight this plant and grows 18″ – 24.” It makes a good indoor plant for bright light.
  • caudatus ‘Ritz Rockets’ is grown for its dramatic upright red flowers and part of a large plant.
  • cruenta ‘Autumn Pallet’ has graceful plumes that flower in early fall in shades of orange, gold and wheat. This plant is a new idea for a cutting garden.
  • caudatus ‘Love-Lies-Bleeding’ is a good addition to an heirloom garden. The plant grows two to four feet tall and requires one to two feet spacing. The long red tassel flowers have a dramatic appearance when planted in a hanging planter. The plant blooms mid summer to early fall.

These plants, like annuals in general, are easy to grow plants for summer gardens.

Permission received for all photos used in this article.