The plant called Coleus by horticulturalists and gardeners is a species of flowering plant in the Mint family (Lamiaceae). The botanical name for Coleus is Plectranthus scutellarioides. It is native to south east Asia and Malaysia.
Botanical Name Change:
While does not happen frequently, official botanical name for plants can change from time to time, as scientists continuously revising the family lineage for plants, base on new discoveries. Genus name may be renamed (or even abandoned altogether) while species within a genus or family can undergo name changes, or get transferred to different genus or family branches.
Coleus, which until recently known as Solenostemon scutellarioides, is now in the Plectranthus genus. Some 300 species which used to be contained within the genus, has disappeared due to reclassification. While technically the earlier names Solenostemon scutellarioides no longer exist, they remained as a synonym for Plectranthus scutellarioides, and still being widely used in gardening literature.
As an interesting side note, “Coleus” is in fact the name of the defunct genus which the plant originally belonged to. Most of the plants labeled with the common name “Coleus” fall into the former Coleus blumei category, although some of the the trailing varieties were formerly labeled C. pumilus or C. rehneltianus. Coleus is a plant which has a taxonomy that seems to be forever in flux, and further changes might be down the road.
Growing to 24 to 30 inches tall and wide, Coleus is a bushy, woody-based evergreen perennial, widely grown for its highly decorative variegated leaves. It has been heavily hybridized over the years into a very large number of strains. Its almost infinite number of leaf color combinations includes most colors of the spectrum except true blue.
Coleus are very generous with producing “sports,” which are mutations that can be propagated and sold as a new variety. The same sport may occur spontaneously at different nurseries and each might claim it as a new introduction and give it their own name. For the uninitiated, the shear number of different cultivars in coleus can be more than a little overwhelming.
In the Garden
They have some of the most stunningly colored foliage, in combinations of green, yellow, pink, red, maroon, etc. Coleus also have a wide variety of leaf sizes and overall shapes, great for adding color in the garden (or home), especially in those dark, drab-looking corners. Its Dynamic foliage can hold its own or can be combined with annuals and perennials in the border or in containers. Coleus are equally suited as container plants for a fast growing and spectacular addition in the garden.
- Stunningly variegated leaves in bright colors.
- Useful in containers, hanging baskets, or as bedding and borders.
- Attract birds. Deer resistant.
Caring & Growing
Coleus are considered tender annuals, and therefore highly susceptible to cold temperatures. Towards the end of fall they must either be dug up, potted, and brought indoors for overwintering or grown through cuttings to establish additional plants.
Coleus plants should not be set into the landscape until the minimum outdoor temperature is 50 degrees F.
While most varieties of Coleus can tolerate full sun, their foliage color tends to intensify in light shade when they are grown outdoors.
Coleus need fertile, well-draining soil. When grown as bedding plant, mulch the entire bed if possible to conserve moisture. The mulch will also help to heat up, and retain the heat in the soil, thereby helping the plants to get established.
They need to be kept moist, especially newly planted coleus. Make sure to water plants thoroughly at planting time. Container plants also require more frequent watering than those grown in the garden. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the foliage will wilt, but normally will recover quickly when additional water is provided.
Although it’s not required, the plants can be given a boost of half-strength liquid fertilizer in spring and summer. Water freely and feed plant using a liquid all purpose (10-10-10) fertilizer every 2 weeks during this period of active growth.
Their spiked flowers usually appear in summer; however, these can be removed if desired.
Pinching may also be necessary to prevent leggy growth. Any time that the tip growth is removed, the plant’s energy will be diverted to the lateral side growth, creating a much bushier plant.
Coleus are very durable, so you can cut your plant back severely (almost back to the soil level) if needed.