Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the October 27, 2013 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

On a dazzlingly sunny, skin-blistering day I biked down Ranch Road just to the south when in blindingly white gravel along the road a bread-loaf-size mound of vegetation sprinkled with fuzzy red little somethings turned up, as shown above.

Up close the little mound revealed itself as composed of many short, leafy branches bearing hairy, roundish leaves with scalloped margins, and the red things turned out to be flowering heads, seen below:

Round Copperleaf, ACALYPHA MONOSTACHYA, female flowers and leaves

Isolating just one flower, I could see that the branched, reddish filaments were styles atop a female flower's ovary, with no male stamens in view, as shown below:

Round Copperleaf, ACALYPHA MONOSTACHYA, female flower

Wanting to see male flowers I examined the little plant -- which arose from a woody base despite the herbaceous-seeming stems -- but none were found.

Back on the bike, a few miles farther down the road a whole colony of the plant appeared, and this time there were plants with male flowers, shown below:

Round Copperleaf, ACALYPHA MONOSTACHYA, male flowers

Though I'd never seen this species, I was familiar with its genus, which was Acalypha of the Poinsettia or Euphorbia Family, the Euphorbiaceae. Acalypha species are recognized by having unisexual flowers like these; often species in the genus are referred to as copperleafs. It's a big genus, with over 450 species known worldwide, and they're often weedy and commonly occurring, so it's a good genus to know.

Our roadside one turned out to be what's usually called Round Copperleaf, though nurseries like to call it Raspberry Fuzzy because that probably sells better and it's easier to remember. It's ACALYPHA MONOSTACHYA.

At the bottom of the spike of male flowers in the last picture you can see two female flowers with red style arms that are less spectacular than those in the first picture. Apparently this species can have flowers of both sexes on the same plant, though each plant tends to be predominantly male or female. This is worth noting because in southern Texas there's a very similar species, Acalypha radians, which the literature says has just one gender of flower per plant. Its leaves also are more deeply divided than ours.

The online Biblioteca Digital de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana, which calls our plant Hierba del Cáncer, or Cancer Herb, reports people in central Mexico using a "tea" of the plant to wash boils, plus the tea can be gargled for a sore throat.

Round Copperleaf mostly occurs in arid northern Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert, and extends into the US only in southern Texas.

Doves, bobwhites and other small birds eat the seeds, and deer browse on the foliage.