Caladiums are tropical perennials that have almost unparalleled foliage and make showy houseplants. They can also be grown outdoors, but unless you live in zones 9 to 11, you should plan to grow them as annuals, or dig up the plants' tubers at the end of the growing season and store them for winter.
Caladiums have large, arrow-shaped and paper-thin leaves that come in a striking array of colors and patterns. A mass of caladium is an explosion of whites, greens, reds, and pinks that are mottled, veined, and striped. They can easily give you the visual impact of flowers while only being foliage plants.
However, these plants have a few drawbacks. They are tuberous plants that grow foliage only from spring to autumn. They also require very high humidity, they have absolutely no cold-tolerance, and they are toxic to animals and humans. Nevertheless, as far as foliage plants go, these are sure to raise a few admiring eyebrows.
|Common Name||Caladium, angel wings, elephant ears|
|Plant Type||Tropical perennial|
|Mature Size||12 to 30 inches tall and 12 to 24 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Indirect light (indoors), full to part shade (outdoors)|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-drained potting mix|
|Soil pH||Slightly acid|
|Hardiness Zones||9 to 11|
|Native Area||South and Central America|
How to Grow Caladium Plants
Caladiums are seasonal plants even in the tropics, where gardeners plant them in the spring and summer months when they'll thrive in the heat and wet. When grown indoors, they do best with lots of heat, bright but indirect light, and plenty of humidity. Even under the best conditions, caladium foliage lasts only a few months before the leaves start to die back and the plant goes dormant again. This is okay—they're supposed to do that.
Many gardeners use masses of these striking plants as summer accents and conversation pieces. When the plants die back, you can save the tubers in a bag and replant them next year for another show.
Caladiums are grown for their foliage, but they do have flowers, which start in the form of spathes, or spikes. Cut off any spathe as soon as it appears to ensure all of the plant's energy is used for its gorgeous leaves.
The caladium prefers indirect light or moderate shade indoors. The narrower the leaves, the greater the sun it can withstand. Growing them outdoors in containers gives you more control over light conditions. In some climates, container plants can be grown in full sun, with careful monitoring. When growing them in a garden, give them part shade to full shade; full sun scorches their leaves.
Plant caladium in a rich, well-drained potting mix, such as a damp mix of soil and peat. Garden soil should be similarly rich and well-drained. The ideal soil pH is slightly acidic, at 5.5 to 6.2.
When leaves appear on the plant, water as needed to keep the soil evenly moist. Never let the plant dry out. Stop watering the plant when the leaves start to die back. Resume watering when the leave reappear next season.
Fertilize the plant weekly during the growing season with liquid fertilizer or use slow-release pellets.
Temperature and Humidity
The warmer the better for caladium houseplants. Aim for 70 degrees F, if possible, as that is the temperature at which tubers begin to grow. Keep the humidity as high as is practical. When planting outdoors, you can transplant potted tubers (or, better yet, simply transfer them in peat pots) after the last frost date for your area. Plants grown this way should be started indoors four to six weeks prior to transplanting.
Toxicity of Caladium
All parts of the caladium plant are poisonous. Use caution when you have caladiums around children or pets. Ingesting the leaves can cause swelling, eye pain, diarrhea, and vomiting in humans. Pets, including dogs, cats, and horses, can suffer pain and swelling of the mouth, tongue, and lips; excessive drooling; difficulty swallowing; and vomiting (excluding horses).
Varieties of Caladium
There are literally too many cultivars to keep track of—caladium cultivars are green, red, pink, white, even orange. In many cases, cultivars are sold without names. Almost all cultivars are descended from C. bicolor, which is native to South America. Some books list these plants as C. hortulanum. Choose your variety based on its appearance. They will make a showy border or a single plant.
A few noteworthy cultivars include:
- Caladium 'Creamsicle': Large green leaves accented with vibrant red and veined with bright white; can be a vigorous grower
- Caladium 'White Christmas': Large, arrow-shaped green leaves with a heavy "dusting" of bright white—a simple and striking color combination
- Caladium 'Little Miss Muffet': Dwarf variety that reaches only about 8 inches in height; lime-green leaves flecked with bright pink spots
- Caladium 'Puppy Love': A relative newcomer with pink leaves edged in green; can tolerate full sun in some climates
Tubers of mature caladium can be divided. Make sure that each new tuber section has at least one growing site. Indoors or out, caladiums are a seasonal plant, with foliage in the summer and a rest period in the autumn or winter. Their rest period isn't determined by temperature or light cycle, but by how long the plant has been growing. After the leaves begin to die back in the fall, either keep the tubers in the same pot (keeping it dry) or remove it, clean it, and put it into sawdust or sand for storage. Store the tubers above 55 F to minimize the loss of healthy samples. Plant them out again when the next growing season begins.