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
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
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
My plants have had no particular
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.
"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.
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
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.