If you are looking for some unusual shrubs for your garden, those that provide unusual blooms are fascinating, particularly ones with tails.

Acalypha hispida or more commonly known as a Chenille Plant. Other common names include Foxtails, Monkey Tail and Red-hot Cat’s Tail. It is a rough-textured shrub, able to grow up to about 1.5 - 3.5m tall and 1 - 2m wide. It has simple leaves, but has stunning red flowers that cluster and hang down like catkins, measuring up to 40 cm long. Their name comes from the Greek word akelpe, which means unpleasant to touch, although I find them fuzzy and soft.

This interesting plant gets its most well-known name from the flowers that look like strands of chenille yarn. Native to the South Pacific, it is a tropical shrub in the spurge family – and this evergreen plant can grow to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide in suitable climates, but in containers will remain much smaller. It thrives in hot, humid summer climates, full or partial shade, but not direct sun in the later afternoon.

This plant is dioecious, meaning it produces male and female flowers on different plants. The soft and fuzzy pendulous female flowers are typically crimson red but there is a white version (‘Alba’) and another with cream-colored flowers (‘White Margined’) which also has creamy white teeth on the leaf edges. The flowers themselves are very small, mostly just feathery pistils but are tightly packed along stems to form the furry catkin.

Although it's non-toxic to cats and dogs, it can be mildly toxic to people, so keep it out of the reach of curious children. As a houseplant, grow it in a greenhouse or place it near a south-facing window where it will receive ample year-round light.

The downside to this pretty plant is it is fussy for fertilising. A fast-growing plant, it needs regular fertilising to support its flowering and development. The standard every other week feeding that supports most showy annuals is not sufficient. Instead, feed chenille plants with a half-strength balanced flower fertiliser every week for best results. If the plant starts to develop yellow leaves, supplement the fertiliser with a shovelful of manure tilled into the soil.

It’s a bit fussy over watering too - You need to keep your plant consistently moist as it establishes itself, and then maintain moderate moisture throughout the season. It's a good idea to check the soil every two to three days and apply water before the soil dries out completely but overwatering to the point of soaking might kill it. Another downside, Chenille plant won't deny its tropical origin and will pout in temperatures below 15c.

Burros Tail or the similar Donkey’s Tail – both are sedums, and are non-toxic succulents, and have similar requirements to that of a cactus - gritty soil, good drainage, sunshine, and protection from extremely cold temperatures. Growing either of these provide a fascinating texture as a graceful houseplant or lush green exterior plant in many landscape situations. They are both heat and drought tolerant plants, well suited for warm to temperate regions. The thick stems appear woven or plaited with leaves, and its green to grey-green or even blue-green colour might even have a slightly chalky look. Try one as a houseplant or use it on the patio or a full sun garden bed. Their fragile leaves break off easily, but they also root quickly and produce new plants with ease. They'll tell you if they're thirsty when their leaves get soft and wrinkly!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan