These natives of the Old World tropics offer strikingly colorful foliage. Usually grown as house- plants, they also make interesting additions to borders. Thrive in fertile, well-drained soil outdoors.
G. aurantiaca. PURPLE VELVET PLANT. CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Native to Indonesia. Upright in youth, clambering when mature. Grows 45 ft. tall in south Florida but is shorter elsewhere; may spread twice as wide as tall. Deeply toothed leaves, to 8 in. long and 4 in. wide, are heavily cloaked with velvety purple hairs, as are the stems. Leaves emerge bright purple, then mature to deep green. Sometimes blooms in late summer, bearing 34-in., yellowish orange flowers that take on purple tones with age. 'Purple Passion' has smaller leaves and is distinctly trailing; excellent for use in hanging baskets.
Outdoors, purple velvet plant grows best in light shade. Indoors, give it bright light from a south- or west-facing window. Let the soil surface become dry to the touch before watering; then water thoroughly. Feed every other week in spring and summer and monthly in fall and winter with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer. Watch out for mealybugs and dispatch them by dabbing them with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Propagate by stem cuttings taken in spring and summer. Cut back old, woody plants to produce fresh, colorful foliage.
G. bicolor. OKINAWAY SPINACH. LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native to the Moluccas in east Indonesia. Forms a leafy mass to 12 ft. tall, 23 ft. wide. Coarse, deeply toothed, nearly hairless leaves reach 6 in. long and half as wide; they are chocolate-purple with prominent green veins on their upper surface, rich purple beneath. Edible leaves are popular in Taiwan. Showy orange-yellow blossoms to 12 in. across are borne on slender, erect stems; they attract butterflies and emit a sweet, pungent odor that some people do not enjoy. Good in combination with finer-textured plants. Outdoors, plant in full sun or partial shade. Indoor culture is same as for G. aurantiaca.