Submitted by Bonnah Boyd, Somervell County Master Gardener
Looking for an unusual plant to add to containers or in beds? The eyeball plant, a short sprawling annual with copper-tinted foliage and unique golden “eyeball shaped” flowers may be a choice.
Native to South American tropics, Acmella oleraceae (also known as Spilanthes oleraceae, and various common names as eyeball plant, toothache plant, peek-a-boo or paracress) is an herb used to add flavor to a bland diet. The foliage has a pleasant salty flavor that eventually leaves a numb feeling to the mouth. It may have received the common name of toothache plant because of its use as a local anesthetic for gums and teeth. Some sources attribute that common name to the appearance of the flowers that resemble a sore tooth. The flowers are bi-colored red and gold, looking like a yellow olive stuffed with a bright red pimiento “eye”.
This plant is easily grown from seed. Although it can be sown directly outdoors, it is better to start plants indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost, because it will not tolerate frost and requires warm soil to germinate. Seeds should germinate in a little over a week. The plant grows about 12”- 15” tall and spreads 24”- 30”. The flowers are produced on the ends of long stems. A little extra maintenance will improve the plants appearance. Pinch at about 3 weeks after transplanting, leaving 2 sets of true leaves intact. Pinching encourages better branching and a more uniformly shaped plant, but will delay flowering by about a week.
Plant in full sun or very light shade. The plants prefer rich soil and evenly moist, but not wet soil. Irrigate when dry and do not allow the plants to wilt. The plants bloom repeatedly from midsummer to early fall. Use it as a summer flowering container plant for sunny patios.
References: University of Wisconsin – Extension Master Gardener Program