Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Hemigraphis alternata
(red ivy)



Hemigraphis alternata (red ivy)


  • Last modified
  • 16 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Hemigraphis alternata
  • Preferred Common Name
  • red ivy
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Hemigraphis alternata is a creeping herb native to Indonesia and Malaysia that has been widely commercialized as an ornamental, mainly due to its metallic green and purple foliage. It is often planted as a carp...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Hemigraphis alternata (Burm.f.) T. Anderson

Preferred Common Name

  • red ivy

Other Scientific Names

  • Blechum cordatum Leonard
  • Goldfussia colorata (Blume) Moritzi
  • Hemigraphis colorata (Blume) Hallier f.
  • Ruellia alternata Burm.f.
  • Ruellia colorata Blume

International Common Names

  • English: cemetery plant; metal leaf; red flame ivy; redivy
  • Spanish: cucaracha

Local Common Names

  • Australia: purple waffle plant
  • India: murian pacha; murikootti
  • Puerto Rico: Asia negra
  • USA: red-flame ivy

Summary of Invasiveness

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Hemigraphis alternata is a creeping herb native to Indonesia and Malaysia that has been widely commercialized as an ornamental, mainly due to its metallic green and purple foliage. It is often planted as a carpet plant or ground cover in gardens, and is regularly dumped in garden waste, from which it spreads into wild areas. Once established, the species grows forming large dense carpets that totally cover the understorey of natural forests, displacing native vegetation. In areas outside its native range, it seems to reproduce only by vegetative means (cuttings or clump division). It is currently listed as invasive in the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Fiji, Chagos, Reunion, Cook Islands, Samoa, French Polynesia, Niue, Palau and Tonga.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Scrophulariales
  •                         Family: Acanthaceae
  •                             Genus: Hemigraphis
  •                                 Species: Hemigraphis alternata

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Acanthaceae is a family of flowering plants comprising 220 genera and at least 4000 species of herbs, shrubs and trees (rarely vines, except Thunbergia and Mendoncia, which are almost entirely climbing plants) distributed mostly across the tropics (McDade et al., 2009; Stevens, 2012). The genus Hemigraphis (20-60 species) is classified within the subfamily Acanthoideae. Species in this subfamily are usually herbs and can be recognized by their often swollen nodes, the stem immediately above them collapsing on drying, and the opposite leaves (Stevens, 2012).


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Ascending or creeping herb, the stems pilosulous, rooting at the lower nodes. Leaves on petioles 1-5 cm long, the blades mostly 3-6 cm long, 2-5 cm wide, broadly ovate to ovate-oblong, acute or obtuse, cordate at base, densely puberulent, sparingly pilosulous or glabrate, the margins crenate. Inflorescences are axillary spikes on a peduncle to 1.5 cm long and 1 cm wide. Flowers generally two per bract, the calyx segments slightly unequal, linear subulate, up to 9 mm long, peeled, ciliate; corolla white, about 1.5 cm long; capsule slender; seeds 4-20 (Standley et al., 1974; Flora of Panama, 2016; PIER, 2016).


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H. alternata is native to Indonesia and Malaysia (Meyer and Lavergne, 2004; USDA-ARS, 2016). It has been widely commercialized and introduced as an ornamental plant into tropical and subtropical countries across Asia, America, the Caribbean and into many islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean (Daniel, 2001; 2005; Meyer and Lavergne, 2004Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; PIER, 2016). After escaping from cultivation, the species has become naturalized and invasive in many areas, primarily on islands in the Indian and Pacific region (PIER, 2016). 

H. alternata was first introduced to Reunion in 1862 and to Fiji in 1928 (Meyer and Lavergne, 2004). The species is also spreading in Hawaii, where a herbarium collection states that it was introduced in 1927 (Wagner et al., 1999). Large dense carpets that totally cover the ground in the understorey of low- and mid-elevation secondary wet forests, have been reported on the islands of Niue, Samoa and Tahiti (Meyer and Lavergne, 2004).

In Honduras, El Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua, H. alternata is also reported as an ornamental species that has escaped from cultivation and is now becoming naturalized and spreading across natural areas, disturbed sites and along trails and roads (Daniel 2001, 2005; Correa et al., 2004).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


British Indian Ocean TerritoryPresentIntroduced Invasive Whistler, 1996Chagos Archipelago
Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)PresentIntroducedSwarbrick, 1997
IndiaPresentIntroducedBased on regional distribution
-KeralaPresentIntroducedIndia Biodiversity Portal, 2016Cultivated
IndonesiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
-JavaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
MalaysiaPresentNativeMeyer and Lavergne, 2004
SingaporePresentIntroducedChong et al., 2009Cultivated


ChadPresentIntroducedBrundu and Camarda, 2004
RéunionPresentIntroduced1862 Invasive PIER, 2016

North America

USAPresentIntroducedBased on regional distribution
-FloridaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2016
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced1927 Invasive PIER, 2016

Central America and Caribbean

BelizePresentIntroducedBalick et al., 2000
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced Invasive Mir, 2012Listed as H. colorata
El SalvadorPresentIntroducedDaniel, 2001Escaped from cultivation and naturalized
HondurasPresentIntroducedDaniel, 2005Escaped from cultivation and naturalized
NicaraguaPresentIntroducedFlora Mesoamericana, 2015Cultivated and escaped
PanamaPresentIntroducedCorrea et al., 2004
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012Cultivated
Saint LuciaPresentIntroducedGraveson, 2012Escaped and naturalized

South America

BoliviaPresentIntroducedJørgensen et al., 2014Cultivated
ColombiaPresentIntroducedIdárraga-Piedrahita et al., 2011Cultivated
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedHokche et al., 2008


American SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive Space and Flynn, 2000
AustraliaPresentIntroducedBased on regional distribution
-QueenslandPresentIntroducedUniversity of Queensland, 2016Naturalized
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Space and Flynn, 2002
FijiPresentIntroduced1928 Invasive Smith, 1991
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Meyer and Lavergne, 2004
GuamPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016Cultivated
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016Cultivated
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016Cultivated; present in Pohnpei and Yap
NauruPresentIntroducedThaman et al., 1994Cultivated
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016Cultivated
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2004
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2003
TongaPresentIntroduced Invasive Space and Flynn, 2001
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016Cultivated

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of H. alternata is high, mainly because the species is widely commercialized as an ornamental plant due to its metallic green and purple foliage. Stems and plant fragments are regularly dumped in garden waste, from where it can spread into new areas (University of Queensland, 2016).


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In Saint Lucia, the species is a naturalized herb of wet roadsides and wet open areas (Graveson, 2012). In other countries, it spreads across natural areas, disturbed sites and along trails and roads (Daniel 2001; 2005; Correa et al., 2004). 

Biology and Ecology

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Physiology and Phenology

H. alternata is a perennial fast-growing herb (Daniel, 2005). The species roots readily from stem cuttings in 7-10 days (Rauch and Hensley, 1997).

Environmental Requirements

H. alternata grows best in light or medium shade. It prefers slightly acid and moist soils, with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5. It does not tolerate drought or salty conditions (Rauch and Hensley, 1997).


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
30 15

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 17 30


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall1500 mm3000 mmmm; lower/upper limits

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Athelia rolfsii Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Colletotrichum Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Curvularia Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Pythium Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Sclerotinia sclerotiorum Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Thanatephorus cucumeris Pathogen Whole plant not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Mealybugs can attack H. alternata. The following fungi have also been found associated with this species: Alternaria spp., Colletotrichum spp., Curvularia spp., Pythium spp., Rhizoctonia solani [Thanatephorus cucumeris], Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and Sclerotium rolfsii [Athelia rolfsii] (Rauch and Hensley, 1997; Cool Garden, 2016; PIER, 2016). 

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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In areas outside its native range, H. alternata rarely produces fruits, mainly spreading vegetatively by cuttings or clump division (Rauch and Hensley, 1997; Meyer and Lavergne, 2004; PIER, 2016).

Environmental Impact

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H. alternata grows by forming large dense mats in the understorey of native forests, inhibiting the establishment of seedlings and young plants of native species, completely outcompeting them (Meyer and Lavergne, 2004; Mir, 2012; PIER, 2016). 

In northern Queensland, Australia, H. alternata is regarded as an emerging environmental weed, capable of invading the understorey of wet forests in warm climates (University of Queensland, 2016).

On several islands in the Pacific, H. alternata has been reported forming large mats of vegetation in disturbed sites and in areas close to forests. For example, in Niue and Fiji, it spreads along trails, roads and in secondary forests. In American Samoa, it has become naturalized at several locations, including conservation areas and national parks, where it forms dense low stands that outcompete native species (Meyer and Lavergne, 2004; PIER, 2016).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Gregarious
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - smothering
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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Economic Value

 H. alternata is widely commercialized as an ornamental indoor and outdoor plant. It is often planted in gardens, hanging baskets and used as ground cover in gardens (Rauch and Hensley, 1997; Priya, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2016).

Social Benefit

H. alternata is used in traditional Asian medicine to cure anaemia, treat bloody dysentery and haemorrhoids, and to mend gallstones. It is also used as a contraceptive and a means of inducing sterility (Priya, 2013).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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H. alternata looks similar to H. reptans, but they can be distinguished by the following traits:

  • H. alternata is a creeping herb with purple, narrow, cordate leaves 3.5-15 cm long, 1.6-6 cm wide, and white flowers in terminal spikes;
  • H. reptans has green leaves with blades elliptic to narrowly ovate, 4-15 cm long, 1.6-4.3 cm wide, and yellowish or white flowers (Wagner et al., 1999).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

Chemical control

An ornamental herbicide with the active constituents oxyfluorfen and oryzalin has been tested to control H. alternata, but the species appears to be tolerant to different concentrations of this herbicide. Only slight injury symptoms of irregular necrotic spots, not enough to cause death, were reported (PIER, 2016). 


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Acevedo-Rodríguez P, Strong MT, 2012. Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies. Smithsonian Contributions to Botany, 98: 1-1192. Washington DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution.

Balick MJ, Nee MH, Atha DE, 2000. Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize. Memoirs of The New York Botanical Garden, 85: 1-246

Brundu, G., Camarda, I., 2004. The exotic flora of Chad: a first contribution. Weed Technology, 18(Suppl), 1226-1231. doi: 10.1614/0890-037X(2004)018[1226:TEFOCA]2.0.CO;2

Chong KY, Tan HTW, Corlett RT, 2009. A checklist of the total vascular plant flora of Singapore: native, naturalised and cultivated species. Singapore: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore, 273 pp

Cool Garden, 2016. Growing Hemigraphis.

Correa AMD, Galdames C, Stapf M, 2004. Catalogue of the vascular plants of Panama. (Catalogo de las plantas vasculares de Panamá). Panama: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, 599 pp

Daniel, T. F., 2001. Catalog of Acanthaceae in El Salvador. Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium, 23, 115-137.

Daniel, T. F., 2005. Catalog of Honduran Acanthaceae with taxonomic and phytogeographic notes. Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium, 24, 51-108.

Flora Mesoamericana, 2015. Flora Mesoamericana. St. Louis, Missouri, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden.

Flora of Panama, 2016. Flora of Panama (WFO), Tropicos website. St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria.

Graveson R, 2012. Plants of Saint Lucia: a pictorial flora of wild and cultivated vascular plants.

Hokche O, Berry PE, Huber O, 2008. New catalogue of vascular flora of Venezuela. (Nuevo catalogo de flora vascular de Venezuela.) Caracas, Venezuela: Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela, 859 pp

Idárraga-Piedrahita A, Ortiz RDC, Callejas Posada R, Merello M, 2011. Flora of Antioquia. Catalogue of the vascular plants, Volume 2. List of the vascular plants of the Department of Antioquia. (Flora de Antioquia. Catálogo de las plantas vasculares, Volume 2. Listado de las plantas vasculares del Departamento de Antioquia). Medellín, Colombia: Universidad de Antioquia, 939 pp

India Biodiversity Portal, 2016. Online Portal of India Biodiversity.

Jørgensen PM, Nee MH, Beck SG, 2014. Catalogue of the vascular plants of Bolivia. (Catálogo de las plantas vasculares de Bolivia). Monographs in systematic botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden, 127: 1-1744.

McDade LA, Kiel C, Tripp E, 2009. Acanthaceae. The Tree of Life Web Project.

Meyer, J. Y., Lavergne, C., 2004. Beautés fatales: Acanthaceae species as invasive alien plants on tropical Indo-Pacific islands. Diversity and Distributions, 10(5/6), 333-347. doi: 10.1111/j.1366-9516.2004.00094.x

Mir C, 2012. [English title not available]. (Estrategia Nacional de especies exóticas invasoras realizado en el marco del Proyecto “Mitigando las amenazas de las especies exóticas invasoras en el Caribe Insular”). Dominican Republic: Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales Santo Domingo

PIER, 2016. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk. Honolulu, USA: HEAR, University of Hawaii.

Priya, M. D., 2013. Review on pharmacological activity of Hemigraphis colorata (Blume) H. G. Hallier. International Journal of Herbal Medicine, 1(3), 120-121.

Rauch FD, Hensley D, 1997. Hemigraphis. Cooperative Extension Service. Manoa, Hawaii, USA: College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Smith, A. C., 1991. Flora Vitiensis nova: a new flora of Fiji (Spermatophytes only). Volume 5: Angiospermae: Dicotyledones, families 170-186, Moncotyledones, Family 32, addenda et corrigenda, index. In: Flora Vitiensis nova: a new flora of Fiji (Spermatophytes only). Volume 5: Angiospermae: Dicotyledones, families 170-186, Moncotyledones, Family 32, addenda et corrigenda, index : Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden.iii + 626 pp.

Space JC, Flynn T, 2000. Observations on invasive plant species in American Samoa. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: USDA Forest Service, 51 pp

Space JC, Flynn T, 2001. Report to the Kingdom of Tonga on invasive plant species of environmental concern. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: USDA Forest Service, 78 pp

Space JC, Flynn T, 2002. Report to the Government of the Cook Islands on invasive plant species of environmental concern. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: USDA Forest Service, 146 pp

Space JC, Waterhouse B, Miles JE, Tiobech J, Rengulbai K, 2003. Report to the Republic of Palau on invasive plant species of environmental concern. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: USDA Forest Service, 174 pp

Space JC, Waterhouse BM, Newfield M, Bull C, 2004. Report to the Government of Niue and the United Nations Development Programme: invasive plant species on Niue following Cyclone Heta. UNDP NIU/98/G31 - Niue Enabling Activity, 80 pp

Standley, P. C., Williams, L. O., Gibson, D. N., 1974. Flora of Guatemala. Fieldiana: Botany, 24(Part X, No. 3/4), 153-466.

Stevens PF, 2012. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. St. Louis, Missouri, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden.

Swarbrick JT, 1997. Environmental weeds and exotic plants on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean: a report to Parks Australia. Australia: Weed Science Consultancy, 131 pp.

Thaman RR, Fosberg FR, Manner HI, Hassall DC, 1994. The flora of Nauru. Atoll Research Bulletin, 392:1-223

University of Queensland, 2016. Weeds of Australia. Biosecurity Queensland Edition. Australia: University of Queensland.

USDA-ARS, 2016. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory.

USDA-NRCS, 2016. The PLANTS Database. Baton Rouge, USA: National Plant Data Center.

Wagner, W. L., Herbst, D. R., Sohmer, S. H., 1999. Manual of the flowering plants of Hawai'i, Vols. 1 & 2, (Revised edition) : University of Hawai'i Press/Bishop Museum Press.1918 + [1] pp.

Whistler WA, 1996. Botanical survey of Diego Garcia, Chagos Archipelago, British Indian Ocean Territory. Isle Botanica, 49 pp.

Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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11/01/17 Original text by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA

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