Photo by Melody


By Larry Rettig (LarryRAugust 26, 2010

“Look at that beautiful coleus! It’s just huge!” I've heard that exclamation a lot during the past several summers. It’s a common response from visitors to our gardens when they see Perilla ‘Magilla.’

Gardening picture

erillas have been garden denizens for centuries among the countries of southeast Asia and, to some extent, in American gardens as well, especially during the Victorian Era.  But they certainly didn't look anything like ‘Magilla!' (See my photo at right.)  Taller and bushier than most coleus varieties and strikingly beautiful with its
exotic looking hot pink, deep burgundy, and green variegated foliage, ‘Magilla' has quickly become a celebrity at garden centers across the country.

Perilla is actually a distant relative of coleus.  Both are members of the mint family.  Like mint, Perilla leaves (primarily those of Perilla frutescens) are used in food preparation, especially in southeast Asia, where the plant is known as Shiso.  Its leaves are either green or purple and their flavor has been described variously as similar to fennel or to cinnamon.  They are said to have strong anti-inflammatory properties.


       Perilla frutescens, green variety



      Perilla frutescens, purple variety 



              Perilla 'Magilla Vanilla' 



      Coleus X Perilla 'Gage's Shadow'

The seeds of culinary Perilla yield a yellow oil that's also used in cooking, but has many other uses.  Among them are as a substitute for linseed oil and as an ingredient in the manufacture of varnishes and artificial leather. 

ImageBack to ‘Magilla'Image

'Magilla' leaves have no fragrance nor much flavor.  Their showy color caught the attention of a Japanese specialist grower, in whose plant collection they arose as a sport sometime before 2000.  Miyoshi, a Japanese plant breeding firm, acquired the plant soon afterward.  Ball FloraPlant then made arrangements with Miyoshi to market the plant in the U.S. and had it ready for commercial sale in 2002.

Perillas are fast-growing, heat-loving annuals.  They do best in soils that are fertile and uniformly moist.  Not too fussy about light conditions, they do well in both sun and light shade.  I've used ‘Magilla' in containers for the past several years with spectacular results.

ImageAnother New PerillaImage

In 2006 Perilla ‘Magilla Vanilla'--the Ball folks are obviously having a bit of fun with word play--first appeared in the horticultural trade.  Instead of the predominant deep burgundy color of the original introduction, this new sport has lime-green leaves with branching fingers on a cream blotch down the center of the leaf.  Because of its lighter leaf coloration, ‘Vanilla' requires some shade to look its best.  It's also somewhat shorter than ‘Magilla,' reaching a mature height of about 16 inches.

ImageColeus CrossImage

Given the fact that Perillas are related to coleus, it was only a matter of time until someone tried to hybridize the two.  The result:  Gage's Shadow.'  It was made available to gardeners recently by Proven Winners.  Leaf coloration is purple and green, so it's not the show stopper that ‘Magilla' is, at least not as far as its leaves are concerned.

Size is another matter entirely.  Under ideal conditions, ‘Gage's Shadow' grows up to five feet tall!  It's definitely a back-of-the-border plant or perhaps the central focus for a round bed.  If you're an adventurous gardener and like very large containers, this plant would be superb as the "thriller" in a large-pot planting.  Culture is the same as for Perillas.

ImageGarden Center SurpriseImage

I was taken by surprise this spring while searching for a good-looking ‘Magilla' specimen.  Thinking I had found one, I placed it in my cart when the label caught my eye.  It read Perilla frutescens ‘Magellanica.'  I thought that perhaps the plant had been mislabeled.  The greenhouse staff assured me it wasn't, as did the results of a Google search, which revealed that it was brought into the market recently by Proven Winners.

The incident reminded me of the importance of light exposure in leaf coloration when dealling with Perillas and coleus.  Generally, the more light the plant receives, the more colorful the leaves.  (On the other hand, some coleus will blanch or even burn in direct sun.)  Compare the photos below for a good illustration of the sun vs. shade phenomenon.

Image Image 
Perilla frutescens 'Magellanica' in bright light  Perilla frutescens 'Magellanica' in full sun 





            Perilla 'Magilla' in bright light                Perilla 'Magilla' in full sun





 Coleus X Perilla 'Gage's Shadow' in bright light Coleus X Perilla 'Gage's Shadow' in full sun
Image Image 

If you haven't grown Perilla before, give it a try next spring.  Better yet, if you don't want to wait that long, check your favorite greenhouse or garden center.  You may find a Perilla that comes with a special end-of-the-season sale price.  It will make a great house plant in a sunny or partly sunny window during the winter.


Thanks to the following PlantFiles contributors for the use of their photos :
LiliMerci, GardenGuyKin, carrielamont, joelle, Gymgirl, Mrs_Ed, Calif_Sue

© Larry Rettig 2010

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  About Larry Rettig  
Larry RettigAn enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.

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