Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Shrubby Copperleaf, ACALYPHA PHLEOIDES

from the December 8, 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

Along a rocky arroyo -- an arroyo being a usually dry stream in arid country -- where water had scoured out a niche below an overhanging limestone ledge, a much-branched, knee-high bush leaned toward the light, its leaves turned reddish or coppery by recent freezes, as shown above. You can see that this plant's branches are tipped with flower clusters. A close-up of a cluster appears below:

Shrubby Copperleaf, ACALYPHA PHLEOIDES, inflorescence

This inflorescence is past its flowering time. The slender, brownish upper part of the spike bears remains of male flowers. Each leafy item below the male section is a bract, or modified leaf, subtending a female flower. A peep into some bracts appears below:

Shrubby Copperleaf, ACALYPHA PHLEOIDES, fruit inside bract

In that picture, the bract at the lower, right folds around a green, three-lobed, more or less oval fruit topped with three deeply forked styles. We've seen unisexual flowers and this kind of fruit so frequently that already we know the plant is a member of the big Euphorbia or Poinsettia Family, the Euphorbiaceae. Within that family, a big genus noted for subtending its female flowers and fruits with deeply toothed, leafy bracts just like these is the genus Acalypha. Species in Acalypha often are known as copperleafs. In October we looked at the Round Copperleaf, Acalypha monostachya. You might enjoy comparing our present plant's features with those of the Round Copperleaf at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/h/acalypha.htm.

Our current, beneath-the-ledge copperleaf often is called the Shrubby Copperleaf. It's ACALYPHA PHLEOIDES, mainly a species of Mexico and Guatemala, but in the north it extends into the US in central and western Texas, and southern New Mexico and Arizona.

In the last picture a striking feature is that the bracts bear large stalked glands. Most similar pictures on the Internet show bracts with few or no such glands, so maybe our plant is unusual for that. However, the species is noted for being very variable. In fact, for many years our plants were regarded as "Lindheimer's Copperleafs," Acalypha lindheimeri, but the expert preparing the Acalypha section to be published in the Flora of North America considers "Lindheimer's Copperleafs" to be mere variations of Mexico's Shrubby Copperleafs.

In Mexico teas made of the Shrubby Copperleaf's aboveground parts traditionally have been used for a variety of gastrointestinal disorders. Research done in Mexico finds that the plant contains thymol, camphor and gamma-terpinene, which do indeed function as antispasmodic agents -- which means that they suppress muscle spasms.