Medinilla (Medinilla magnifica) is a tropical broadleaf evergreen plant. If you’ve traveled through Southeast Asia, you may have marveled at this tropical beauty growing on tree branches, dangling its vivid 18-inch flower panicles down like clusters of otherworldly grapes. Flower gardeners who live in USDA growing zones 10 and 11 can grow Medinilla as a tender perennial outdoors, but others must grow this exotic flower as a houseplant or patio tropical.
Also known as the pink lantern plant and rose grape, Medinilla magnifica belongs to the Melastomataceae family. Medinillas bear panicles of flowers that resemble clusters of small grapes, which stand out against attractive dark green foliage. Some Medinillas have showy bracts at the base of their flower clusters, which resemble flower petals.
Medinillas are evergreen shrubs in their native habitat, which includes Java, the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines, and Sumatra. The leaves contribute to the tropical look of this plant, growing up to 14 inches in length. Leaves are ribbed and moderately succulent. The average size of a Medinilla shrub is 3 to 4 feet, but you can keep the plant at a reasonable indoor size by pruning it after flowering.
|Botanical Name||Mednilla magnifica|
|Common Names||Medinilla, rose grape, showy medinilla, Philippine orchid, pink lantern plant|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen|
|Mature Size||2 to 4 feet tall; 1- to 3-foot spread|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Well-drained potting mix|
|Soil pH||6.1 to 6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Sporadically from April to August|
|Flower Color||Pink to coral red|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Phillipines, Java, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra.|
You can grow Medinilla plants as houseplants, but many find that they make better patio or greenhouse specimens due to their humidity requirements. If nothing else, giving your Medinilla a summer vacation in a partially sunny spot outdoors will increase its vigor. An added bonus to growing Medinillas outdoors is their appeal to birds, bees, and butterflies.
How to Grow Medinilla
Medinilla plants can be epiphytic in the rainforest, which means they grow on trees or shrubs instead of in the ground. In this environment, the Medinilla uses its host for support but is not parasitic—it doesn’t draw nutrients from or harm its host plant.
When growing as a potted specimen, you can use a commercial planting medium for orchids, which resembles something like chunky bark. This allows air circulation around the roots, which prevents root diseases. An orchid pot, which contains extra ventilation holes, is also well-suited for a Medinilla specimen. In appropriate climates, Medinilla plants can also grow outdoors in well-drained soil.
All Medinillas grow best in dappled shade; direct sun will scorch the leaves or cause leaf drop. Consider the Medinilla's habitat: as it grows nestled in the lower branches of large trees in the jungle, it receives dappled sunlight; you should try to provide similar conditions.
Medinillas grow well in an orchid potting mix with some peat moss mixed in; they appreciate the slightly acidic soil conditions created by peat moss. Or you can use a diluted acidifying fertilizer to adjust the soil pH.
Medinilla plants need above-average moisture and they don’t like drying winds. Soil should be kept consistently moist but not soggy. Reduce watering slightly during the winter.
Temperature and Humidity
This is a tropical plant that needs warm temperatures. This doesn’t mean Medinillas crave triple-digit temperatures: the ideal growing temperature is 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below 50 degrees may cause the plant to yellow or drop its leaves. Winter temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees stimulate the natural winter dormancy of the plant and encourages bud formation in late winter. It has a strong preference for humid conditions; Medinilla is best grown in greenhouse conditions.
The Medinilla is a light feeder, and excessive nitrogen will cause the plant to produce lush foliage at the expense of the blossoms. An occasional feeding with liquid compost will give the plants all the nutrients they need and help keep the soil in the optimal mildly acidic pH range.
Potting and Repotting
If you grow your Medinilla in a container, the quality of the potting mix will deteriorate over time. If you notice your medinilla container staying moist more than a day after you watered it, it's time to repot with fresh soil.
Indoor potted Medinilla plants can be kept at a manageable size by pruning down the branches immediately after the plant flowers.
If you're feeling especially successful with a stocky Medinilla specimen, you can attempt to root some cuttings to increase your tropical plant collection. Cuttings root easily in a mix of damp sphagnum moss. Take a cutting with at least two leaves, but remove two-thirds of each leaf to reduce their burden on the stem. Use a powdered rooting hormone as a stem dip to encourage rooting.
This plant can also be propagated from seeds. Following flowering, the fruit clusters that the Medinilla produces are full of seeds. In fact, one fruit cluster may produce 2000 viable seeds; as species plants rather than hybrids, the seeds will produce offspring true to its parent features. Seeds from ripe, soft fruits will be ready to germinate.
Crush the fruits, and you will see hundreds of seeds suspended in the fruit gel. Clean them in a bowl of fresh water, and change the water daily for several days to remove tannins that inhibit germination. Plant seeds on the surface of a sterile potting medium, and cover with a layer of milled sphagnum moss to prevent damping off disease. Keep moist until germination, which can take a month. Seedlings will grow about one inch per month and may take two to three years to reach flowering size.
Other Species of Medinilla
The Medinilla genus is diverse, so look for subtle differences as you explore the species. The plants and seeds most widely available with a little searching are M. magnifica, but other species worth researching include:
- Medinilla cummingii: Often known as chandelier tree, this plant has dense flowering panicles and produces purple to black fruits.
- Medinilla sedifolia: This tiny plant (3 to 6 inches) flowers twice per year with delicate magenta flowers 1/2 inch wide.
Varieties of M. Magnifica
Medinilla magnifica is available in several cultivars that are commonly labeled according to flower color. These can be difficult plants to find; consult a tropical houseplant specialist or rare seed retailer.
- Rose-grape Medinilla: Easiest to grow for beginners; tolerant of cool evening temperatures
- Crimson Medinilla: Glossy red flower clusters
- Coral Medinilla: Topping out at 12 inches, a lower-growing variety
- Pink Medinilla: Large bracts bear pink flower clusters, and eventually dark blue berries. Grows to 6 feet, so plant in the ground or a large patio container.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Mealy bugs may trouble Medinilla plants occasionally. If so, dab the insects with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Spider mites will infest Medinilla plants stressed by dry conditions, but daily misting will discourage these pests.