Hypoestes phyllostachya

Hypoestes phyllostachya

This plant, hailing from the tropical rainforests of eastern Madagascar, belongs to the Acanthaceae family, the members of which do very well in Sydney gardens on the whole. In cooler climates, it is grown as a houseplant. Sometimes called the freckle-face plant, it is a shrubby perennial, growing to about 50cm, and its leaves are smattered with polka dots of pink, white or even red. In some cases, the variegation takes the form of large splashes of colour.

Impatiens, Hypoestes phyllostachya and a cane Begonia in the garden of Jill Fraumeni in Sydney

The spots can be matched to nearby flowers to produce a pretty effect: Plectranthus, for example, provide plenty of possibilities, as do New Guinea Impatiens. The plant grows well in sun or shade, even in quite dry, inhospitable shade. Some people regard them as weeds, and I have to admit they do self-seed enthusiastically, but I find their speckled leaves charming and would not want to be without them. They get quite straggly over winter so need to be cut back almost to the ground in late winter.The flowers are insignificant and can be cut off to keep the plant compact. It is propagated by seed or cuttings taken in late spring.