The Beefsteak plant

Magilla Perilla.
Magilla Perilla. / Wikimedia
  • This member of the mint family makes a great plant for containers, window boxes, borders and shade gardens

The Beefsteak plant has several common names but is commercially listed as Magilla Perilla. It looks very similar to Coleus and there is some dispute between botanists and commercial growers as to whether it is a true member of the Perilla genus or not. It is said to be a clone of a Perilla plant which was discovered in the collection of a specialist grower in Japan.

Unlike Perilla, which was extremely popular as a bedding plant during the Victorian era and is used as a herb in Asiatic cuisine, it does not have aromatic, cinnamon scented leaves. It has the square stems typical of the Lamiaceae family and stunning leaves marked with shades of purple, pink, green and cream.

Perilla is a vigorous grower which produces lots of seeds and can become invasive however the Beefsteak plant has few flowers and is usually sterile. It grows in to a mound of foliage about half a metre tall with sturdy upright stems and the leaves can be up to 15cm long. It loves the heat but is not drought resistant and needs regular watering during the summer. It will grow in sun or shade; however the species with cream splashes can scorch in full sun. It is fairly cold hardy but not frost resistant.

Research professor emeritus, Dr Arthur O. Tucker from the Delaware State University, after examining the structure of the flowers, stated, "Magilla Perilla is the same species as the commonly grown Coleus just different cultivars," and therefore "has nothing to do with the culinary herb Perilla". It continues to be marketed as Magilla Perilla.