The chenille plant is a flowering shrub which belongs to the acalypha genus, and is a member of the euphorbiaceae family and acalyphoideae subfamily. This tropical plant is native to the Pacific islands, and grows its best with minimal moisture, in light soil and full sunlight. It is not uncommon for these bushy shrubs to reach heights of 12 feet; however, there are also dwarf varieties available that will grow – at their largest – to heights of 18 inches. In appearance, these dioecious plants are made up of either arching or upright heart-shaped leaves and unique flowers. In some plants, these flowers may bear a similar color to the leaves; however, the female plants generally carry long, drooping catkins which contain small clusters of pistillate blossoms. These flowers are best known for their vibrant red shade, but they may also be seen in lovely purple or white hues.

Although the chenille plant – much like its cousin, the poinsettia – is considered mildly toxic, they have a surprising folk history in herbal medicine. In Malaya the whole plant is turned into a decoction which is used as both a diuretic and a laxative; in Africa the leaf is used as a treatment for leprosy and the bark to treat lung ailments; while in Indonesia chenilles are used to help cure hemoptysis. In addition to being fantastically useful, these shrubs have also found their place in the artistic realm. Although most pieces are of a photographic nature – such as “Chenille Plant,” by Terra ‘Sunshine’ Fox – other mediums are occasionally used to highlight this shrub’s unusual beauty. For instance, the 1917 painting entitled, “Heliotrope and Acalypha,” which was done by Tanigami Konan, and was featured in the Seiyo Soka Zufu – or A Picture Album of Western Plants and Flowers – series.

Even though the chenille plant does not have any particular symbolism associated with it, it is not hard to see these shrubs as an emblem for luxury – if for nothing other than the soft, silky appearance of their blossoms. As a gift, they are often given as an alternative to the more common house plants. When kept indoors, chenilles sometimes require more care than other plants; however, when placed in containers or hanging baskets, they can make for extraordinary presents.