Phyllanthus Myrtifolius - The Mousetail Plant

By Jerry Meislik

Botanically speaking, Phyllanthus lies within the Euphorbia family of plants and the genus Phyllanthus contains shrubby plants and small trees from tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. The flowers of Phyllanthus are typically small and are followed by small fruits. Some of the larger fruited varieties are eaten for their high vitamin content. One such example is Phyllanthus acidus, the Otaheite Gooseberry.

The Phyllanthus genus, originating from Southeast Asia, Australia, and the tropical Americas, contains several plants used for bonsai. My original Phyllanthus were obtained in 2000 from a friend, Lim Keow Wah of Singapore. The bonsai community in Singapore has been using this material for bonsai for some years. The plants scientific name is Phyllanthus myrtifolius, the Mousetail Plant.

I have grown this plant for 4 years under lights in my plant room and found it to be a durable plant that should have more widespread use for indoor and tropical bonsai.

Bonsai Use
Phyllanthus myrtifolius has small leaves, 1/4 inch by 3/4 inch long, with short petioles. Leaves line the long arching stems and are arranged on the stem in a flat plane. The small leaves and fine twigs allow it to be transformed into a terrific small-sized bonsai. Even young plants have a rough bark that is very attractive. Additionally, the plant is quick growing and tolerant of varying cultural conditions.

Phyllanthus does not form huge trunks, and the pendulous red flowers are quite small and nearly insignificant. The fruit is said to be a small capsule although my plants have not set seed.


Phyllanthus do well under moderate to high intensity indoor lighting but do not grow much under lower intensity lighting.

The plants prefer a moist soil mix, and will die if allowed to dry out completely. On repotting make sure to keep the roots moist or the plants will suffer. Drooping and dull colored leaves are present if the plant gets a bit dry. If allowed to get completely dry, it may die.

Plants should be kept in a relatively humid atmosphere. A humidifier will be helpful in the winter when extreme dryness can damage the rather thin leaves.

The plants originate from Southeast Asia and so are unlikely to tolerate freezing. Temperatures above 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal.

Any well drained but moisture retentive bonsai soil should work.

When the plant is actively growing fertilize at weekly intervals with normal strength fertilizer solutions.

My plants have had no particular insect susceptibility.

Leaf drop
Phyllanthus will drop many of its inner leaves in the dormant season, or in the fall period. These inner leaves turn yellow, and quickly fall off. This leaf drop will also occur with excessive dryness during the growing season, so try to keep the plant adequately moist. Some leaf drop after repotting is also likely.

Bonsai Training

"Clip and Grow"
"Clip and Grow" method works very well but wiring is also successful, as branches remain supple well after they get woody. As with any bonsai wire the branches when they get woody. Green branches can be easily damaged with careless wiring.

Severe Reduction
Back budding on old wood is reliable and consistent so large reductions cuts are feasible.

Phyllanthus is extremely easy to grow from cuttings. Use a piece of stem 3-4 inches long with leaves and include a hardwood base section. Insert the cutting into moistened bonsai soil and then enclose the pot in a plastic bag. Roots will form in two to three months, and the plant can be staged out of the baggie and acclimated to normal growing conditions. Make sure to keep the soil moist and place the bag in bright light but not direct sun. Rooting should take 4-6 weeks.

After one to three years the plant will be ready for its basic bonsai styling.

Growing Phyllanthus from seed is said to be easy however my plants have not set seed so I cannot comment.

The Phyllanthus is a great material indoors for shohin or small sized indoor bonsai. Give it a try!


1. Leaves alternate on the stem.

2. In a side view the leaves are arranged in a flat plane.


3. Four year old cutting with no training.


4. The same plant after a quick trim and wiring.


5. The same tree after soil removal.


6. Base of the trunk with lovely rough bark.


7. Tree placed into an oversized training pot.


8. Another four year old Phyllanthus plant.


All Rights Reserved © 2004 Jerry Meislik