Hypoestes phyllostachya Baker, 1887
(synonym : Hypoestes sanguinolenta Hook, 1865)
Polka Dot Plant or Freckle Face
Christine Ashe
Don Herbison-Evans,

The polka-dot plant comes originally from Madagascar but has made itself at home in Australia naturalising on parts of the sub-tropical eastern coastline. Though it grows easily and spreads from both cuttings and seeds it has not reached pest proportions, possibly because it is easy to control. It rarely passes 1m in height and can be kept much shorter than this by regularly pinching out the new growth tips.

Whilst mainly grown for its lovely green leaves with pink splotches. Different varieties have been bred with white splotches, and with pink leaves with green splotches.

Its tiny purple flowers are quite charming too. In the temperate gardens of east coast Australia this plant is treated as an annual. If winters are too cool it happily adapts to life as an indoor pot plant. In my garden I grow them in a shady area, directly in the soil rather than bothering with pots, where they are quite happy. They love lots of water but they are also quite drought hardy if the weather demands it, and will continue to grow and flower - they just won’t be as beautiful because there will not be anywhere near the same number of prettily patterned leaves.

Generally they die right away once the temperatures reach single figures in winter. Before that they can become long and lanky with more stem than leaf as they prepare to set seed. This can be prevented by snapping off the flowering stems as they appear or by breaking off any long unwanted growth. This can be done at any time and the stems snaps quite readily. The job is done in seconds with a quick snap, snap, snap over the area. If you throw the cut off pieces into an area where you would like them to grow, you will be rewarded with new seedlings come spring.

They are an old fashioned plant readily available in old gardens because of their ability to self sew and thus pop up in all sorts of odd places. Once the Polka Dot plant is happy at your place you will always have a new supply of plants.

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Flowers in Australia

(updated 25 June 2007)