Ask the Experts: What Is This Plant?

A few days ago my friend Cindy sent me this photo of a mystery plant that’s been popping up around her plot in her community garden in New Jersey and we speculated about what it could be. I’ve never seen it before. It looks a little like basil but doesn’t smell or taste like it. Cindy was told by her gardening neighbors that it can be used in salad. Maybe it’s some type of lettuce?

Cindy's plant


Anyone have any ideas? Curious minds want to know!

Thanks for your expertise!

Michele and Cindy



  1. Suzanne Brown says:

    It almost looks like a coleus to me


  2. I don’t know but it does kind of look like coleus.


  3. Kathy says:

    Hi there! I believe that it your mystery plant is Purple Shiso, otherwise known as Perilla frutescens nankinensis. Here’s a link to a wikipedia page about shiso plants:

    On the upside, it’s edible. On the downside, it readily free seeds.


  4. Bailey says:

    Always something new to learn. I had no idea.


  5. Michele says:

    Kathy is right. It looks like shiso which is invasive in North America. I would be inclined to pull every plant and compost before allowed to flower and produce seeds.


  6. Michele–I know a number of folks who grow purple perilla in their garden and, yes, it does seed freely. Some think it’s worth managing, though, by removing the blooms before the seed matures. If you’re looking for a source, Baker Creek Heirlooms Seeds has it. Otherwise, you might be interested in ‘Magilla’ purple perilla, a stunning cultivar with a fushia pink variegation at the midrib.


  7. Purple Shiso, (Perilla frutescens nankinensis) grows like a weed here in the South. It has a musky fragrance but produces beautiful spikes of purple flower in the fall like a coleus. It reseeds to the point of being a weed! I use it as a hedge because it reaches 3 feet tall by July! There are various pictures on garden blog.


  8. Cindy says:

    Thanks to you all for your insight and solving the mystery! I’m thinking of pulling some, but leaving some to see what the flower looks like. I do have a garden neighbor who is Asian and I know that she grows some Asian plants. I will look more closely in her garden to see if it might have been the source. Happy gardening!

    Liked by 1 person

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