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Specific Houseplants, Tropical Gardens

Purple Passion Plant: Velvety Houseplant Care


12 min read

One of the most beloved houseplants is the purple passion plant (Gynura aurantiaca). The most striking feature of this plant is the soft purple hairs that cover the upper leaf surfaces, with lovely green underneath. The plant is perfect for a hanging basket on a slightly shady porch or in an indoor setting. 

Purple passion plant care is not complicated, either. As a tropical plant, it requires many of the same light, water, and nutrient conditions as other houseplants do. Because of its striking appearance, it will stand out among others in an indoor collection. In most areas, it can be grown outdoors for at least part of the year. 

The flowers of this plant have an intense scent that is considered unpleasant. Typically their appearance indicates the plant is ending its life cycle. Thankfully, propagating is easy, so you won’t miss this gorgeous plant after its life ends.

Quick Care Guide

Common Name(s)Purple passion plant, purple velvet plant, purple passion vine
Scientific NameGynura aurantiaca
FamilyAsteraceae
Height & Spread1-2′
LightBright, indirect light
SoilRegular potting soil
Water1 inch per week
Pests and DiseasesAphids, spider mites, mealy bugs, botrytis blight, fusarium wilt, root rot
The velvet and purple hairs of gynura aurantiaca

The velvet and purple hairs of gynura aurantiaca, purple passion plant

All About Purple Passion Plants

The Gynura aurantiaca common name, purple passion plant is just one of a few for this tropical from Southeast Asia. It’s also known as the velvet plant due to its fuzzy leaves that are either green, purple or a combo of both. Gynura aurantiaca is a woody perennial evergreen plant native to forest floors of Java.

Purple passion plants have a low-lying or vining habit depending on where they are grown. They grow 2 to 6 feet tall, and 1 to 2 feet wide. The textured green leaves are ovate, with serrated edges, and covered with fine purple to reddish hairs. Young leaves have the most apparent coloring. The leaf undersides are completely green.  

The roots of purple passion plants are relatively shallow, but they readily grow from cuttings. In the wild, sections of the plant fall to the ground and root easily, especially in spring and summer. Therefore, home propagation is easy. When the plant is at full maturity, it blooms spindly orange aster flowers that have an unpleasant smell when they’re fully open. 

Most home gardeners snip them off before they bloom completely. It’s at this time you’ll want to take stem cuttings of your plant for propagation, as the orange flowers are a sign the plant is going to die back soon. 

Purple passion has an extra layer of pest protection via the hairs that cover its leaves. These multicellular trichomes deter many pests, making them less of a problem. It’s also completely non-toxic to pets and humans. 

Purple Passion Plant Care

The purple velvet plant is pretty easy to care for! Here are the basics that will keep it healthy. 

Sun and Temperature

You can grow an outdoor purple passion plant in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12. In other zones, keep it indoors when temperatures dip below 60° Fahrenheit. The ideal temperature range for the purple passion plant is 75° to 85°. This means an indoor space has the perfect range – especially a spot near a window with a sheer curtain.

The leaves of a purple passion plant do not respond well to too much direct sunlight, acquiring more green color at least and singed, crispy leaves at worst. Keep it in dappled sun, or an area with bright, indirect light. If you don’t have consistent dappled shade, a spot with direct morning sun and afternoon shade is sufficient. 

Water and Humidity

Young specimens of purple passion plant need a little water every 2 to 4 days. More mature plants benefit from watering every week or so. In warmer areas and seasons, water more often. As a general rule, keep the soil evenly moist in the spring and summer growing season, and slightly dryer in fall and winter. Do not wet the soft purple leaves when you water.

Allow a quarter of the soil in your pot to dry before watering. If you don’t live in a humid area, provide a pebble tray that offers some humidity, or a humidifier. While most homes range from 30% to 50% humidity, your purple passion plant likes high humidity at 40% to 60%. 

Soil

Your purple passion plant will do just fine with basic potting soil. If you’d like to make your own, try a mix of 2 parts peat moss and one part sand. The peat helps trap moisture that keeps the soil moist and the sand gives your potting mix the good drainage it needs. Your plant needs good quality soil for adequate growth. A slightly acidic pH is best, at 6.5 to 7.5.  

Fertilizing Your Velvet Plant

During the growing season, fertilize your purple passion plant every 2 weeks with a balanced fertilizer diluted to half strength. Do not fertilize in fall or winter, as purple passion is dormant and won’t absorb the nutrients provided by the fertilizer. Overall, you may not need to fertilize the plant. But use this method if you do.

Pruning and Training Purple Passion Plant

You don’t necessarily need to prune your purple passion plant, but if it’s growing vertically too much, pinch back the first set of leaves to the subsequent leaf node. This promotes bushier growth, rather than lateral growth. 

As your plant ages, you may want to take some cuttings and make new plants. Of course, if any leaves get scorched by the afternoon sun, remove those. Similarly, diseased or damaged leaves can be removed throughout the life span of your plant. To train the purple passion plant to become a purple passion vine, lay it up against a wall or even a small trellis. Then avoid pruning it to allow lateral growth to proliferate. 

One very important pruning practice involved in purple passion plant care is the removal of the orange flowers that bloom among the plant’s velvety leaves. Many gardeners will remove these before they open fully due to the odor they emit, which is less than desirable. This is a good time to prune as well as the plant is entering the end of its life cycle and will need to be propagated.

Propagation

After a few years your purple passion plant will have reached maturity. If you want to continue to carry out velvet plant care, you’ll have to propagate cuttings. Clip a sizeable stem from your Gynura aurantiaca plant in active growth of spring or summer, cutting above the growth point. Remove the bottom leaves, with 1 to 2 sets remaining at the top.

Prepare pots for your stems with the same potting mix you used for the current Gynura aurantiaca plant. Use a pencil or chopstick to create a hole in the center of the potting mix. Dip the stem cuttings in rooting hormone, and place them in the holes. Water lightly. Affix a plastic bag over the top of the pot and put it in a sunny area. Continue to keep the soil evenly moist. In about two weeks you’ll have new growth. 

Once your stems are putting out new leaves, your plant is propagating. At this time you can transfer them to a hanging basket or anywhere the purple leaves can receive bright light and temperate humidity.   

Troubleshooting the Velvet Plant

The flower of gynura aurantiaca - remove these as they smell terrible!

The flower of Gynura aurantiaca, purple passion plant – remove these as they smell terrible!

Now that we’ve covered the basics of purple passion plant care, let’s discuss the issues you may face when working with them. Purple passion, like other houseplants, has some very basic things to look out for, but the hairs on its leaves give it an extra layer of protection from pests. 

Growing Problems

Your purple passion may experience problems if the conditions in which it grows aren’t suited to its nature. For instance, if you place it in direct sunlight, the purple color of the velvety leaves will lessen. If you notice this or dry and crispy leaf tips, this is a sign your purple passion is receiving too much sunlight. Filter the light through a sheer curtain, or move the plant to a place where it can receive bright, but indirect sunlight. 

When purple passion gets too much water, especially when you’re working with cuttings of the plant’s stems, it could be predisposed to diseases, like rot. We’ll touch on this more later, but remember to avoid watering until ¼ of the soil in your plant’s container is dry. 

If you don’t tent your propagation stems with a plastic bag, purple passion may not propagate and your cuttings may rot. You need to simulate the tropical regions purple passion lives in and trap moisture in the bag to create a new plant.

Finally, improper fertilization can damage your plant. Remember, you may not need any fertilizer. If you do choose to fertilize, only feed your plant every two weeks in spring and summer. Do not feed the plant in winter. Winter and fall are its dormant seasons. Fertilizing at the wrong time gives the plant more than it can absorb, and can promote rot.  

Purple Passion Plant Pests

Aphids can attack your plant, and suck the sap of leaves and sometimes the stem. Like the other pests in this section, their feeding can cause nutrient deficiencies and curling leaves. If your plant is outdoors, spray it with a strong stream of water to break off their mouth parts and prevent further feeding. If this seems like too much water for your plant, gently wipe congregating aphids with a damp cloth. Applying neem oil is perfectly acceptable as a follow-up treatment.  

Spider mites also suck sap from your plants and sometimes spin webs around leaves and stem of the plant as they go. If you see webs wrapped around the stem and leaves, this is a sign the mites are present. Keep moisture in the soil and around your houseplants to prevent them. Use insecticidal soap or neem to treat them.   

Mealybugs are common pests of many houseplants. If you notice small white cotton ball-like bumps in the purple hairs of your plant, this is a sign mealybugs have arrived. They too suck sap of your houseplants, purple passion included. All of the pests in this section will leave behind honeydew that can cause rotting on plants if they aren’t taken care of. Use insecticidal soap, neem oil, and start your mealybug treatment by popping them off with an alcohol-soaked Q-tip. 

Diseases of the Purple Passion Plant

Botrytis blight and fusarium wilt are both fungal diseases that come from caring for your plant improperly. Wilting leaves, brown leaf spots, and mushy stems are all a sign that you might have a fungal infection. Prevent them by giving your plant enough bright light, and only fertilizing in spring and summer. For treatments, start with neem oil as a preventative. If necessary, use copper fungicide

Root rot is another disease that arises when conditions aren’t right for your plant. Mushy lower stems are a sign that root rot has set in. You can try repotting your plant to control the spread of the issue. Remove the plant, and lightly dust off soil around the root ball. If all the roots are brown and dead, dispose of the plant. If there are white, healthy roots, remove the dead ones and replant in fresh potting mix. Don’t water at first. If symptoms reduce, add some moisture.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much sun does a purple passion plant need?

A: Purple passion needs indirect sunlight at about 6 to 8 hours per day. If you see browning leaf tips, and have to water often, this is a sign your plant is getting too much light. 

Q: Are Purple Passion plants easy to care for?

A: Relatively, yes! They require much of the same conditions that many other tropical houseplants do. 

Q: Is a purple passion plant indoor or outdoor?

A: It’s both! If you live in zones 10 through 12, it can live outdoors year-round. Otherwise, bring it in when the temperature dips below or remains at 60°.

Q: How big can a purple passion plant get?

A: They stay relatively compact in domestication at full maturity, about 2 feet tall. When leaned against another object they’ll sometimes grow to 6 feet tall.

Q: How long do purple velvet plants live?

A: They live for 2 to 3 years, but you can propagate new plants from a parent plant easily before this time is up. 

Q: Are purple velvet plants toxic?

A: They are non-toxic to both pets and humans, thankfully!

Q: How often do you water purple velvet?

A: Water only when ¼ of the potting soil is dry. 

Q: How do you trim a velvet plant?

A: You may want to remove the flowers before they fully bloom to avoid the intense smell they give off. For plants that have a lot of lateral growth, pinch back the first set of leaves to promote bushier growth.

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