Calico Plant Facts


Calico plant (Alternanthera sp.) or Joseph's Coat is an annual known for its colorful foliage that ranges from red to yellow to chartreuse. It's been popular since the Victorian era, when it was used extensively in formal gardens. Gardeners today like calico plant because its foliage offers bright color all season and it requires very little attention.


Calico plant can be grown as a tender annual in the landscape. It's often seen in formal knot gardens or as bed edging. According to Paul Thomas of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, many theme parks, like Disney World, use calico plant to create intricate, eye-catching designs in the landscape. Calico plant looks good in containers and baskets, where its trailing habit can take over. Calico plant also will grow as a houseplant if given strong light and not too much water.


Calico plant prefers well-drained soil that is not overly fertile. The foliage will lose its vibrant coloring if the soil is very nutrient-rich. Calico plants need full sun for the best leaf color, but it can tolerate partial shade. It is fairly drought tolerant, so water when the top layer of soil is dry. Taller cultivars will need staking to remain upright.


Propagation can be done by division or using small stem tip cuttings.


Pinch or shear your calico plant occasionally to keep it in bounds and hedge-like. The calico plant makes an excellent bedding plant.


Some of the most popular calico plant cultivars include "Purple Knight' 18 to 24 inches tall" (burgundy foliage), "Wavy yellow" (gold-splashed foliage), "Red Coat" (multicolored foliage), "Threadleaf Red" (scarlet foliage), "Party Time" (multicolored foliage) and "Broadleaf Red' (apple green leaves with red stripe).


  • University of Illinois Extension
  • University of Georgia Agriculture Department
Keywords: calico plant, Joseph's Coat, Alternanthera

About this Author

Aileen Clarkson has been an award-winning editor and reporter for more than 20 years, earning three awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. She has worked for several newspapers, including "The Washington Post" and "The Charlotte Observer." Clarkson earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Florida.