A sprawling tropical shrub with partially woody stems, the velvet plant (Gynura aurantiaca) has jagged-edged leaves that are densely covered in fine hairs that are silvery purple. A member of the daisy family, it is popularly grown merely for its soft foliage as house plants around the world, grown outdoors only in tropical regions. The variety Purple Passion, misleadingly labeled as Gynura sarmentosa, bears purple leaves and purple hairs, grows like an upright vine and is known as the purple velvet plant.
When grown as a house plant, situate velvet plant where it receives bright indirect light, such as three to six feet away from a sunny window. Do not allow direct sun rays to reach the foliage for longer than two hours in the very early morning or just before sunset. Outdoors in tropical regions, plant it in a partially shaded spot with complete shading during the hottest, most light-intense part of the midday and late afternoon.
Grow velvet plant in a peat-based potting mix if grown as a house plant and scatter 1/4 to 1 1/4-inch of compost or fresh potting mix on the container's soil each spring. If you repot the velvet plant in a slightly larger container, use fresh potting mix. Outdoors in the tropical garden plant it in a fertile, moist but well-draining soil, such as a sandy soil with lots of incorporated organic matter.
From spring to autumn, water the plant freely whether growing indoors or out. Do not over-water so that the soil remains soggy or the indoor containers continually rests in a basin of water. Avoid wetting the hairy foliage as it can cause fungal spots or spotting, especially if the water used is cold or chlorinated. Allow municipal water to warm to room temperature and rest for at least one hour so chlorine dissipates before using. In winter, decrease watering so that the soil remains barely moist with occasional, infrequent watering to retain foliage.
Fertilize only during the spring through fall months. Apply a balanced, liquid fertilizer solution per product label directions once a month to the velvet plant. This liquid feeding can replace a regularly scheduled watering event. Do not fertilize in late fall or winter.
Remove dried, brown foliage as encountered to keep the velvet plant looking its finest. High ambient humidity promotes best leaves. If stems become leggy or the plant too large, consider pruning back stems in mid-spring to any lower pair of leaves or dormant buds. The plant will rejuvenate over spring and summer. Flowering occurs mainly in winter when the stem tips display smelly orange-yellow flower discs. Trim them off if you find them undesirable. If allowed to grow to healthy maturity, velvet plant can be 24-inches tall and 2 to 4 feet wide.
If light levels are too low or the velvet plant is stressed by overly wet soils, aphids may suck juices from the youngest leaves and stem growing tips. Conversely, in dry soils and where warmth and low humidity prevails, spidermites will web leaf undersides.