What is Caladium?

Helga George
Helga George
Handful of peat moss, which is often used to grow caladium.
Handful of peat moss, which is often used to grow caladium.

Caladium is a genus of seven species of plants in the arum family, Araceae, that are indigenous to tropical regions of the Americas. Several species are grown for their attractive leaves and are known as elephant ears or angel wings. Over 1,000 different cultivars exist with many different patterns of colors on their large leaves, which are shaped like arrowheads. The plants grow from tubers and are commonly grown as annuals in cooler climates. If desired, these bulbs can be stored over the winter at cool temperatures and be planted again in the spring.

Most of the cultivars are derived from Caladium bicolor. There are two types of plants in cultivation. There are fancy-leaved plants, which have large heart-shaped leaves. They generally grow to be 2 ft (0.6 m) tall and equally wide. The other type of Caladium is known as lance-leaved and has leaves that are thinner. These plants are generally smaller than those of the fancy-leaved types.

Caladiums only grow year-round in tropical areas, like Hawaii. Wherever grown, they require constant moisture and generally prefer shade. The Caladium leaves frequently have mixtures of red, green, pink, and white, and add color to shaded garden beds. They are often grown with hostas and ferns.

The tubers, which are similar to bulbs, do not produce foliage as attractive when planted again the following year. Many people choose to over-winter their Caladium tubers in cooler climates and replant them, however. The tubers should be allowed to gradually dry out in the fall as the weather starts to cool. Then they should be removed from the soil and placed in peat moss or vermiculite, and kept barely moist over the winter. The tubers should be kept between 55-60°F (12.8-15.6°C).

As spring approaches, they can be planted outside once the soil has warmed up. Soil temperatures of 70°F (21.2°C) are ideal for planting. The tubers may rot if planted in cool soil. Also, the plants may need protection from slugs and snails. They should be fertilized on a regular basis to promote good growth of the leaves and to maintain their color.

The Caladium also make good houseplants if the house is warm. They prefer temperatures of 65-70°F (18.3-21.2°C) at night, and 75-85°F (23.9-29.4°C) during the day — and bright light without direct sunlight. The ideal soil for growth is an equal mix of potting soil with peat moss. As with plants grown outside, the soil should be kept moist. The plants should also be fertilized every two to three weeks.

To have Caladium plants on display around the year, one should start a second batch of plants growing six months later. The tubers should first be planted 1 in (2.5 cm) deep in the same compounds used to store them over winter. When the leaves appear, they can be planted in their final soil mixture.

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    • Handful of peat moss, which is often used to grow caladium.
      Handful of peat moss, which is often used to grow caladium.