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What is Breynia?

By S. Williams
Updated May 16, 2024
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A member of the Phyllanthaceae family, Breynia is a genus that contains 35 different species of plants, mostly shrubs. Some species have medical applications. This genus is also known as Foersteria, Melanthes, Melanthesa, and Melanthesopsis. These plants are native to warm areas ranging from India to Australia, and are grown in flower gardens around the globe.

The Breynia disticha, or Hawaiian snow bush, is a popular plant grown in tropical gardens or indoors in cooler climates. The inspiration for its common name comes from the white and pink colored leaves that make this plant appear to be snow covered. It requires a high amount of heat and humidity as well as full sun for the best results. Leaves will quickly begin to drop if the plant's soil is allowed to dry completely. The snow bush is a mid-sized shrub that can be used to form hedges in tropical areas where the plant can be grown safely outdoors.

Native to Australia, the Breynia oblongifolia, or coffee bush, is another shrub in this plant genus. It grows small green flowers in the summer that later form orange or pink berries that turn black as they ripen. In its native environment, this shrub is a prolific grower and can quickly reestablish itself once it has been removed from an area. The coffee bush provides shelter and a food source to many small animals.

The Breynia fruticosa, or waxy leaf plant, is a shrub with dark green leaves and small yellow and orange flowers. This shrub is native to southern China and Indonesia. It grows in low-lying areas and at the edges of woodlands. The roots and leaves are used to treat sore throat, eczema, and stomach issues.

Breynia officinalis is a Chinese plant that is used in a herbal remedy called Chi R Yun. It is combined with other medicine to treat contusions, heart failure, venereal disease, conjunctivitis, and growth delays. Overdoses can cause Breynia officinalis poisoning. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, chills, and vomiting. Liver toxicity may occur within a day of ingesting the Breynia plant and can last for up to four weeks.

The miniature Breynia disticha nana, or dwarf snow bush, can be grown as a potted plant. The leaves are a variegated green and white color that provides color and brightness to an indoor display. While it is a small plant, this Breynia is tall enough to add height to container gardens that feature many short plants.

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