Brighter than flowers: Breynia


If you love somewhere warm there are few shrubs that give more bangs for your buck than Breynia disticha ‘Rosea-picta’. The wild, green plant is native to islands in the western Pacific and it is a spreading evergreen shrub with small, green flowers that hang form the arching stems under the leaves. It was first described in 1776 but the green plant has little ornamental value. The opposite is true of the colourful ‘Rosea-picta’ which has leaves splashed and infused with white and that are bright pink in good light, especially on the young shoots. (‘Nivosa’ has white leaves without the pink)

It used to be in the euphorbia family but, for reasons to complex for me to describe in any accuracy*, is now in the Phyllanthaceae.

It is sometimes seen sold as a houseplant in the UK but, in my experience, is tricky to keep, needing heat (minimum of 15c) and humidity and is a sucker for red spider mites. But, where it can be grown outside, it is a reliable and remarkable shrub that gives colour all year round. There is a catch of course and it can sucker widely and also self seed – not something anyone in northern Europe will have to have nightmares about.

breynia 2

* It seems the only definitive and reliable characteristic is that there are two ovules in each locule of the ovary whereas there is only one in Euphorbiaceae. Basically if you look in a seedpod of a euphorbia there is only one seed. Another useful characteristic is that none have latex (milky, rubbery sap) while many (but not all) Euphorbiaceae have latex in their sap – most notably Hevea, the true rubber plant.





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