Eyeball Plant, Acmella oleraceae

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Posted on 14 July 2003

Looking for an unusual annual to add to containers or in beds? Eyeball plant is not your typical flower - it looks like a yellow olive stuffed with a bright red pimiento "eye". The short plants produce lots of small flowers that add interest when viewed up close. To learn more about this Brazilian plant, read this article... 

Acmella oleracea - the eyeball plant.This interesting plant has recently been introduced into the ornamental trade as an annual flower. Native to the South American tropics, Acmella oleracea (also known as Spilanthes oleracea, with various common names including the Eyeball Plant, Toothache Plant or Paracress) is a tender perennial that was originally used for culinary or medicinal purposes. It is still used as an herb by the indigenous peoples of tropical Brazil to add pungency to the bland taste of their staple food manioc. The flowers are yellow with a red “eye”.Outside of Brazil, paracress is little known as a flavoring agent. The foliage has an unconventional, pleasant to salty flavor that eventually leaves a numb feeling in the mouth. It may have received the common name of toothache plant because of its use as a local anesthetic for gums and teeth – but some sources attribute that common name to the appearance of the flowers that supposedly resemble a sore tooth. It is also purported to have immune-enhancing properties when ingested, and is effective against blood parasites (such as malaria spirochetes).

T/sites/wimastergardener.org/files/Features/flowers/Spilanthes-he ornamental Acmella or Spilanthes is a short, spreading plant with bi-colored red and gold flowers and glossy green leaves. It grows about 12-15" tall and spreads 24-30". The leaves are roughly triangular and olive green, but often appear bronzed in full sun. The eye catching flowers, produced on the ends of long stems, are shaped like an olive stuffed with a pimiento – golden yellow with a red "eye." ‘Peek-A-Boo’ is the only variety currently available.

The unique flowers add interest in mixed containers.This plant is easily grown from seed. Although it can be sown directly outdoors, because it will not tolerate frost and requires fairly warm soil to germinate, it is far better to start plants indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. Seeds should germinate in a little over a week. Because of its unusual growth habit a little extra maintenance will improve the plants’ appearance. The main stem grows up and arches over. After the first flower buds are set, the plant will start branching naturally, but this results in a one-sided habit. Pinching encourages better branching and a more uniformly shaped plant, but will delay flowering by about a week. Pinch at about 3 weeks after transplanting, when the fourth set of true leaves has developed, leaving 2 sets of true leaves intact.

Eyeball plant can be used as an annual groundcover.Plants can also be propagated by stem cuttings. Stems which flop over will readily root, so either stake down a stem to promote rooting, or choose one that has already rooted. Cut the stem near the crown of the plant, and transplant the rooted section.

Plant eyeball plant in full sun or very light shade about 2 feet apart. The plants prefer rich soil and evenly moist (but not wet) soil. Irrigate when dry and do not allow the plants to wilt. These unique flowers are ideal for mixed containers or beds for viewing up close. Use it as a summer flowering container plant for sunny patios. It can be used as a groundcover, but in solid plantings the small bicolored flowers tend to look somewhat muddy from a distance.

Additional Information:

  • Paracress on Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin - Madison

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