Usually called purple waffle plant or red flame ivy, purple ivy (Hemigraphis alternata) is a tropical herb with sprawling, ivy-like stems. Its leaves are scalloped and oval to heart-shaped, colored silvery gray above and purplish burgundy underneath. The species Hemigraphis repanda may also be called purple ivy because it has spreading stems and narrower purplish leaves. Its culture is the same as that for Hemigraphis alternata.
Purple ivy grows along the edges of woodlands on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is also found in adjoining parts of Malaysia and southern India.
All members of the botanical genus Hemigraphis are members of the acanthus family, Acanthaceae. Key features of plants in this family are flower clusters or spikes comprises tubular or funnel-like flowers that yield dry seed capsules as fruit.
Purple ivy grows 3 to 6 inches tall and spreads its purple-burgundy stems to an overall width of 18 to 24 inches. As the stem comes into contact with moist, fertile soil, the nodes root into the soil. The metallic looking leaves, about golf ball-sized, are evergreen. In spring to summer, the tips of the stems bear a tiny cluster of white flowers that are easily overlooked. Individually, each blossom is tubular and has five lobes.
Purple ivy cannot survive temperatures below freezing and is grown outdoors only in USDA hardiness zones 10 and warmer. Plant it in a moist, fertile, well-draining soil that is not alkaline in pH. High ambient humidity helps keep foliage looking impeccable; dry or cold windy sites lead to leaf browning. Provide a partially shaded situation where no more than 2 to 4 hours of direct sun rays reach the leaves in the early morning or early evening hours. A bright, indirect light is perfect. Too much sun as well as dry soil conditions can cause scalding of leaves. Full sun exposures are best when heat is not excessive and soil remains consistently and evenly moist.
With a prostrate habit, purple ivy makes a lovely tropical ground cover in the dappled shade under trees. It also adapts well to container culture to spill over the container's edges. In cold regions, grow purple ivy as a summer annual or year-round as a houseplant in a decorative pot or hanging basket.
When grown indoors, monitor plants for infestations of whiteflies, scale insect or mealybugs. Scale insect and mealybugs will be hiding on the lower sides of stems and leaves.