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Iresine is a tropical perennial plant. It is often treated as an annual in most gardens or grown in a container as a houseplant. The plant was once grown for medicinal purposes — mostly to rid the body of evil spirits or to improve male vigor. However, the plant’s bright-colored leaves are its most striking feature, lending to its ornamental value in the garden. In fact, the plant's common name of bloodleaf is derived from the plant’s blood-red color.
There are well over twenty species of Iresine plants. Some appear more shrub-like, while others take on a climbing characteristic. Rarely are flowers produced; and when they are, they’re usually rather inconspicuous. These small, spiked blooms are usually followed by numerous seeds.
Iresine leaves may be oval or spear-shaped. Some are smooth and others may be fuzzy. Foliage color might be solid or found in various combinations of green, red, purple, or bronze. Although the foliage varies between species, all of them tend to share the same reddish-colored stems, leaves, or veins.
The most commonly grown species includes I. herbstii, which is also known as beefsteak plant. It can reach up to two feet tall (.6 meters) and has purplish-red stems and leaves. This Iresine species is native to Brazil. I. wallisii is a much smaller variety with bronze-red leaves above and darker red on the undersides. Both I. celosia, from Central America, and I. diffusa, from the United States as well as Central and South America, have been grown for centuries as medicinal plants.
Growing and caring for an Iresine plant isn’t very difficult. Cuttings can be taken in spring and then inserted in moist sand. They should be covered with plastic and placed in a warm location. Once the roots have established, they can be transplanted into individual pots or planted outdoors in suitable climates. Those planted outside should be spaced about six to ten inches (15-25 cm) apart.
Bloodleaf varieties should also be grown in moist but well-draining soil. Generally, an equal mix of loam, compost or rotted manure, and peat moss will suffice. Since Iresine plants enjoy both heat and sun, they need to be given these conditions as well. In cooler regions, the plant should be grown indoors, located in a brightly lit area. It can, however, go outdoors during summer and returned inside prior to the first frost.
During its active growth, this plant requires thorough watering, keeping it moist but not soggy. Water should be reduced in winter but occasional misting may be needed. Pinching off the tall shoots will help the plant maintain a bushier appearance.
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