The red colour present in the leaves of many tropical plants is due to anthocyanin pigments in their leaves. Some plants have completely red leaves or green leaves with red undersides, while others have mixed green and red foliage. The red colour is often at its brightest if the plant is grown in bright light and can fade or disappear completely in dull conditions.
Joseph's coat, or copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana), is a large-leaved shrub that can reach 12 feet in height. It is very variable, with large leaves up to 8 inches long with serrated edges. The leaves can be red, bronze, yellow and green with streaks and mottles. Native to Fiji, Joseph's coat is fast growing and thrives in a sunny spot in frost-free areas.
Snowbush (Breynia disticha) is an upright shrub with small, rounded leaves; it can grow up to 8 feet high. It is an evergreen perennial in frost-free zones and hails originally from the Pacific Islands. The leaves are multicoloured with red, green and cream mottles, patches and streaks. Snowbush thrives in well-drained soil, and it is at its most colourful in full sun. It can be pruned into a hedge.
The ti plants (Cordyline Terminalis) grow as a multistemmed erect bush with branching stems up to 10 feet. Originally from South East Asia, it is grown outdoors in frost-free areas and as a houseplant. The large, pointed leaves are green, pink and red, with variable markings that become more colourful in sunlight. Ti plants require plenty of water and can be propagated from stem cuttings.
Caladiums are tuberous, perennials originally from the tropical Americas but now widely cultivated as ornamental plants across the world. They produce broad, heart- or arrowhead-shaped leaves with strong red and green colours. There are hundreds of species and cultivars with different shaped and coloured leaves. Caladiums can be grown outdoors all year round in frost-free areas, and the tubers can be dug up and stored indoors in colder zones.
Native to Australia and the Pacific Islands, the croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is an upright shrub with large, glossy leaves that are red, green and yellow. There are a number of cultivars with different coloured variegations. Crotons are not frost hardy but will grow as houseplants and can get up to 10 feet high. Regular pruning encourages branching and leaf production, and bright light brings out their colours.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Acalypha wilkesiana
- Okeechobee County Extension Service: Snow in the summer
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Cordyline terminalis Ti Plant
- Floridata: Caladium bicolor
- University of California Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden: Variegated Leaves
- Broward County Cooperative Extension Service: Croton (Codiaeum variegatum)