Well the title says it all. My Brazilian Red Cloak really is going off this year. I believe the hard pruning I did two springs ago and the unseasonably warm weather all year are the main contributing factors. My neighbor even stopped over to ask what that plant was called in my backyard “that looks like it is on fire.”
Brazilian Red Cloak (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys) is a very showy plant when in flower. When not in bloom, I could see it being confused for another semi-woody shrub—Justicia. Native to rain forests of Venezuela, I find they grow best in moist, organic, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade, but they really aren’t too finicky if these conditions can not be met. Brazilian Red Cloak is a fast-growing plant when treated right. Don’t believe much of what you read about this plant’s size in cultivation attaining a height of only 3 to 6 feet. My largest is already 8 feet tall. It would be larger had I not chopped it back two years ago. Here is the same plant as the photo above from another angle. Notice how the leaves are darker green on the shady side versus the full sun?
Brazilian Red Cloak has exceptional ornamental value in the garden thanks to its plumes of red bracts. Just like Bougainvillea, the actual flower is rather irrelevant from a visual standpoint, rather it is the modified leaves (bracts) that make it stand out. Brazilian Red Cloak has white flowers on showy red bracts that tend to bleach out in full, hot sun. An autumn bloomer, flowering can last two months here in our Mediterranean climate.
Propagation is easiest by cuttings. I did nothing more than cut off some larger branches, removed all the leaves, dipped the stem in a rooting hormone and just stuck the cuttings directly into soil potting. After a few months in the greenhouse the plant should be well on its way to needing to be planted in the ground. Here are two Megaskepasma erythrochlamys that I made from cuttings two springs ago. As I rework this area of my garden and plant from back to front, I felt this would fill in nicely and eventually help screen my greenhouse from the road. As my palms continue to grow taller, they will provide a little shade to ensure the leaves have that dark green color I prefer.
A happy Brazilian Red Cloak has no serious insect or disease problems. Snails can be an issue, however. Thanks to all the leaf litter these plants give off, it provides a nice cover for snails to hide and reproduce and eventually eat your plant’s leaves. I just toss some pet-safe snail land mines under them each winter and it takes care of this.
I know Megaskepasma erythrochlamys can survive light freeze without damage in places like Florida. But I doubt it would fair so well during a California freeze. So I would guess this is a USDA Hardiness Zone 10a rated plant and root hardy to 9b if well mulched.
Again, this is not a small shrub. So if you have limited space it most likely isn’t the plant for you, as it wants to spread its wings to look its best. Brazilian Red Cloak can take a hard pruning, so it can be confined to smaller spaces if need be. It can also be grown in a pot with great success. The only issue you might run into is that it is not readily available at your local garden center. So it does take some effort to track one down if you aren’t lucky enough to find some cuttings off some one else’s plant.
UPDATE: September 23rd, 2016
I wanted to give a quick update on how fast my Brazilian Red Cloak has grown in just the two short years since I first wrote this post. Even with regular pruning, my Megaskepasma erythrochlamys have still taken over this part of my garden. I had to remove the Macrozamia moorei cycad seen in the photos above and replace it with a smaller, slower growing cycad because the Brazilian Red Cloak’s had started to bury it.
I like this look where it sprawls over the fence.