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What is Aphelandra?

Helga George
Helga George

Aphelandra is a large genus of flowering plants that are native to the jungles of the Americas and are members of the family Acanthaceae. A few of the species are grown commercially, primarily Aphelandra squarrosa, more commonly known as the zebra plant. These plants have attractive leaves with white veins and large yellow flowers borne on top of the plants. They prefer shade and warm, humid conditions. Zebra plants are somewhat difficult to grow in houses, generally preferring to be grown in greenhouses.

This species of Aphelandra generally stays fairly small, reaching 8 to 12 in (20.3 to 30.6 cm tall). The elliptical leaves are bright green and usually have large white veins. The striping of the veins is the reason for the common name of the plants. There are cultivars available with veins that cover much of the leaf's surface or have red coloring on the stems and underneath the leaves.

Aphelandra flowers are borne on terminal spikes and are 4 to 8 in (10.2 to 20.3 cm) high. Those of the zebra plant are generally yellow bracts that last for a long time. Often this plant is brought home in bloom and then kept as a houseplant.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

This species of Aphelandra requires bright light, but does not do well in the presence of direct sunlight. It blooms infrequently, but exposure to light can bring about a period of flower production. The plant should be fertilized every two weeks while it is flowering.

The zebra plant is very particular about temperature. The ideal temperature for growth is between 65° to 70° F (18.3° to 21.1° C). It will do poorly if the temperature drops below 60° F (15.6° C) for long.

Aphelandra plants will tolerate average home humidity, but they will perform better under conditions of higher humidity. It is recommended that these plants be grown on a humidifying tray. The frequency of watering is very important; the plant needs to be kept well watered, but should not be kept wet. Gardeners should water when the soil surface is just beginning to dry. If the plant is not being watered ideally, the lower leaves can die off.

This plant has a winter rest period during which it does not need water as frequently. In spring, one should prune half of the growth from the previous season and repot the plant. The potting mixture should consist of 1 part potting soil, 1 part sand or perlite, and 2 parts of peat moss.

The zebra plant is best propagated in the spring. Cuttings can be taken from the stem tip and kept constantly moist. They should be kept between 70° to 80° F (21.1° to 26.7° C).

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