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What is a Polka Dot Plant?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2018
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Hypoestes phyllostachya is also known as the polka dot plant, freckle face, pink dot, flamingo, or measles plant. These names evoke the main feature of this evergreen plant: it is usually spotted or mottled, combining the colors of red, white, or pink and green on each leaf. Native to Madagascar, the polka dot plant is principally thought of as a house plant in many other parts of the world, and will only prosper outdoors in a few growing zones that feature year-round warm temperatures. As interest in this plant has grown, horticulturalists have created a wide variety of cultivars. These emphasize the contrasting colors on the leaves, which in the original plant are not that striking.

It is easy to find a polka dot plant in many places. Some drug stores and even grocery stores may carry small ones. Otherwise, they are widely available at plant nurseries or through nursery catalog and online sales. People can also buy seeds to grow the plants.

Many people do purchase the plants for indoor growing, and there are guidelines to follow to help them prosper. The plants like medium light, and some may do better in shadier conditions or require higher light levels. A good way of determining if the light level is correct is to look at the colors of the leaves. If the leaves look faded and the colors aren’t vibrant, try adjusting the light level to lower or higher. Also, follow instructions for the specific cultivar.

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Most cultivars grow quickly and they have a tendency to be less attractive as they grow because they stretch out and become less bushy. It’s important to keep the plant groomed and snip off any leggy growths to keep the plant looking full. Indoor gardeners should also expect to repot periodically because the polka dot plant can become rootbound easily. Polka dot plants also require regular watering, but are usually resistant to pests and disease and thus may be a perfect choice for those who like to raise their plants organically.

There are several ways the polka dot plant can be grown outdoors. Gardener can treat the plant as an annual, using it in borders, barrels, and pots and letting it die when the frosts come. Alternately, in near tropical zones, the plants may prosper for years, just as they do in Madagascar. The original plant isn’t very large; it’s about three feet (.91 m) in height, and cultivars may be smaller still. Just as with growing indoors, gardeners should expect to trim the plant often to create a more bushy look and some gardening experts suggest that pinching off the plant’s flowers makes the leaf colors deeper. On the other hand, some people like the small flowers the plant produces, which may be white, purple or pink.

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