Plant Profile: Solenostemon ‘Henna’

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My garden is so jam-packed with plants by early autumn that I can barely move around outside. Far from holding plants back, a spell of cooler, duller weather has encouraged exuberant growth and the appearance of lashings of fresh foliage. Flowers are in shorter supply, but there are enough to give the garden interest and punctuation. I particularly enjoy September as I can take my foot off the pedal and just let things go. Colocasias and bananas suddenly achieve gigantic proportions, grasses arch across the pathways and fuchsias drip with dancing flowers. It’s a magical month, whilst at the same time signalling the beginning of the end of the gardening year.

My coleus have responded quickly to a fortnight of variable weather, their foliage becoming larger, richer and brighter every day. Despite being considered heat and sun resistant, Solenostemon ‘Henna’ has been revitalised by showers and fresher mornings, the leaves once again a brilliant Chartreuse backed by henna-red. It’s a dazzling combination. During the heat of summer the leaves had turned pale gold in places, giving the plant a sickly appearance. The effect was not unattractive, but I was not enamoured: I much prefer the foliage now it’s back to its brick-and-acid brilliance.



Solenostemon ‘Henna’ is a relatively new coleus, trialled extensively in the USA where coleus are significantly more popular than they are here in the UK. It quickly makes a large plant and propagates easily from cuttings, which can be rooted in a glass of water and then potted on. I am taking a few cuttings every fortnight so that I have plenty of smaller plants to overwinter. The parent plant is now 4ft tall and counting. I’ve already described how the colour and quality of Henna’s foliage is greatly influenced by the amount of sunlight it catches, which is the same for many coleus. Too bright and any variegation changes colour, loses definition or disappears completely. This varies for every variety and some are certainly more tolerant of full sun than others. For me, the value of coleus is that they bring fabulous colour and variety to a partly shaded garden so I am not fussed about growing them in baking sunshine. Healthy coleus cope well with dull, damp weather, although the same conditions appeal to slugs and snails which find them delicious.

What I particularly like about ‘Henna’ is that it’s a bright, robust and vigorous plant that injects unique colours and textures among more conventional foliage plants. The leaves have an almost reptilian surface and jagged edges, reminding us that coleus are often referred to as flame nettles. Looking back I can see how dramatically the degree of serration around the edge of each leaf increases as the plants reach maturity. S. ‘Henna’ is shy to flower. This is a bonus, since flowering in coleus is deemed a negative. Coleus flowers are not interesting and their appearance normally signifies the decline of the plant. It’s best to nip them off if they do start to appear, although this can be a losing battle. I did not have to do anything to encourage a bushy habit, the plant did that for itself. With some coleus it’s beneficial to pinch out the main growing tip to encourage side shoots to form.



If had to identify any drawbacks it would be that ‘Henna’ is a little fragile, both in terms of the strength of the main stems and the tear-resistance of the leaves. I may experience these issues because my garden is very sheltered, causing plants to get a bit ‘soft’, but it’s nothing a few short pea sticks wouldn’t prevent at planting time. ‘Henna’ is also not the easiest plant to place, especially in a garden full of flowers. I think it works best with plainer foliage, whatever the colour, and alongside other coleus.

I know that many visitors marvelled at this unusual coleus when they visited my garden in August and I hope that they will all seek it out. Coleus deserve to be more widely grown, either as houseplants or summer bedding plants. They are easy to grow, almost pest free (darn those slugs and snails!) and as colourful as the most extrovert blooms. ‘Henna’ is one of the biggest and best, so why not give it a try next summer?



Categories: Annuals, Beautiful Strangers, Coleus, Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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29 comments On "Plant Profile: Solenostemon ‘Henna’"

  1. This is the most striking coleus I have seen in some time. It stands out in your garden.It is actually the plant that I remember best in your garden. It is a keeper.

  2. Oh how I regret not to have bought one when I visited Broadstairs garden centre last spring ! But my garden was left to fence for itself for one month this summer so maybe it was for the best. I do hope they will sell some next Spring as I find yours gorgeous.

  3. Visiting the Eden Project today I noticed they have a lot of coleus (or as it seems to be known now, Solenostemon), all grown under the shade of the trees and giant shrubs in the tropical biome. The colours do indeed look better in the shade and they obviously like the moisture in the air. I shall take some cuttings of the ones I bought this year and grow them indoors over the winter. And hopefully keep them safe from those S&S critters 🙂

    1. I am thinking the plants you admired at Eden might be Iresine rather than coleus? I think the tropical biome might be too hot for coleus but I could be wrong about that. If they were mostly red and burgundy they were probably Iresine.

      May your cuttings root easily and grow healthily over winter. Dan

  4. It is impressive, but the old classic cultivars are not easy to give up. I suppose that eventually, the old ones will be replaced. I hope that the new ones are not too different.

    1. Judging by the book I purchased recently from the USA, there are thousands of cultivars there and new ones being added all the time. There are many quirky ones, but in essence they are still easily recognisable as coleus. The hard thing is working out which are worth the effort, which is why I am trying several out this summer. Dan

      1. Oh on this score I would definately try Lemon Lime if you see it. It dosn’t look much as a small plant but will dazzle in the most brilliant Spring green as it grows. I wouldn’t be without it. Every year I cut off the tops and stick them straight back in the ground. Quite a big grower. The nice thing is you get a two toned effect, the newer leaves are bright chartreuse while the older are more lime. Its a subtle difference but the effect is a glowing miracle of green. Stunning in big pots. Needs bright light. Full sun it’s a disaster in the sub-tropics and too dark and it wont grow well either. So morning sun in the UK should be perfect. Yah out of the zillions of cultivars I only grow four or five. Things are though it must be said a lot more interesting with these than a few decades ago. I’m itching to try the more outlandish ones. Coral reef look for my garden would be brilliant. With good editing what could be better with the endless form and colour available.

      2. Sorry I raved on about Lemon Lime , I meant “Electric Lime”…..def worth a shot. I found “Gay’s pride” in Japan where they are in a perpetual Coleus frenzie which is handy. This is a brand new on for me but otherwise an old classic apparently. Just not sure it’s going to be quite as evoctative as the name is to me, we shall see. It sure is more exciting a name than the other one I got there at the same time called King Crab. Pure coincidence of course [blush].

      3. I hadn’t appreciate that they were keen on coleus in Japan, although I am not surprised. They have an eye for detail and a fastidious approach to horticulture.

        I can’t find ‘Electric Lime’ here in the U.K. the selection on offer is pathetic. But I like the idea of a zingy green coleus so will keep my eyes peeled for alternatives. ‘King Crab’ is interesting with its frilly edges. Dan

      1. I absolutely agree. I’ve always had houseplants, although the current number is certainly influenced by their current popularity. It’s just so easy to find interesting ones now.

  5. Coleus is a favorite of mine, but it seems the nurseries here don’t have anything new or interesting like yours. I love those colors and the deep serrated edges. I will have to do some searching.

  6. I’ll be sure to try growing these plants in my garden too. Whenever I read your posts, it almost always makes me think of trying something out in my garden.

    Excellent post, as always.

  7. Hello Dan- its such a lovely plant- I wondered do you know where I could buy a cutting or plant of this variety (Henna)?
    Many thanks!

  8. Hi Tim loved reading this entry, thank-you.

    Yes I wish Solenostemon sellers on the net would be a bit more detailed about the conditions these liked. A lot just say sun or shade or both but the colours are affected enormously by the amount of light. I’m not fond of the bleached out chartreuse colours, they do look sickly. They lose that lovely ever Spring intense green, so I’m forever rushing around with shade netting to keep them so during anticyclone heat waves which kind of defeats the purpose of growing them. So your tip with Henna is very well received. When I get one eventually (on my bucket list) I will plant in bright shade. Given that you are in the UK, my full sun will do horrible things to Henna. Much nicer to look at than mounds of black shade netting or faded leaves.

    BTW I think these are now all Plectranthus scutellaroides, rather than Solenostemon. Much nicer to pronounce and makes complete sense to me. We should get ready to welcome some stunning blooming varieties soon as there are some beautiful flowering Plectranthus out there to use in crossings. I’m imagining all sorts of terrific combinations of leaf colour with garden worthy flowers in blue, purple and white. At the moment P. scutellaroides has rather insignificant flowers, though I still like them as they are often blue and despite what labels say profuse. The flowers only come at the end of a very very long season when the plant is rather woody already and when most other flowers have long given up the ghost. I also dont bother removing them, seedlings are a welcome bonus. Many coming true from seed rather surprisingly. Mine are not annuals but sub shrubs, some of them go on for years getting sizeable woody growth. Wasabi could almost be considered a shrub.

    Another wonderful thing about these are that the juvenile leaf forms are very different to the adult leaf forms, many get better and better or go in a direction you would rather not have.. So unless after a specific cultivar and you love surprises like I do buy them small and throw away the label, the label is not much use anyway. Stand back and watch as they explode into something entirely interesting hopefully. Trial and error seems to be the only way to know for sure exactly what kind of lighting they prefer in your climate . Unless you read good and useful blogs like these of course you wont know and there are thousands of varieties……. you strike it lucky when someone tells you exactly how they behave. Very lucky. Thumbs up from me!

    1. I’m so uttery (sic?) delighted to say I at last found a P. Henna!!!

      Over the moon, decades and decades late but that doesn’t change how fabulous it still is. I recognised it instantly from this bog and snapped it up. There were only four and three had been horribly crushed in transport to the retailer (common occurrence here). I got the perfect fourth before anyone else. Yes!

      True as TRG says it is on the soft side, the leaves are thinnish, I’m not sure it will get any better far as this goes as I recognise the texture from a few others with the same like “King Crab”, big soft easily torn leaves. Shelter Is a must. I’m definitely going to stick in some long support needles like hat-pins to keep it steady as it grows….typhoons tend to get into every nook and cranny no matter how sheltered or secure. They move around like demonic demolishion-balls swinging on chains.

      Thanks for the tips again, just so over the moon. Long may I keep it going with cuttings. Now all I want for Christmas (preferably sooner than that) is “Campfire”, gorgeous orange with a violet sheen like shot silk.

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