The following information was compiled from various sources. Please note that there are many different types of caladium plants, so it may not apply to all varieties. Also, some of these terms are used loosely or incorrectly. For example, “caladium” is often used to refer to any type of caladium plant (e.g., Calathea), but it could also mean only certain kinds (like Calathemum).
A caladium is a type of flowering plant belonging to the family Solanaceae. They are native to tropical regions of South America and have been cultivated since ancient times. The name comes from the Latin word for silver, calea.
There are several species of caladiums, but they tend to grow in small colonies with clusters of flowers arranged in a ring around their base. The leaves of caladiums are usually green or purple and the stems are sometimes woody. Some species produce tiny seeds called calyxes.
Calathea californica is one of the most common and widespread species found in cultivation today. It grows well in full sun to part shade conditions, though it prefers moist soil with good drainage. It can reach up to 3 feet in height and may be grown as a houseplant if desired.
Caladiums are found growing naturally in the wild in: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. There are dozens of varieties available.
It’s important to begin by selecting a site with well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Next, be sure it is planted in a sunny location. Water it well and then allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer in the early spring just before new growth begins. Pinching back will promote branching and yield a bushier plant. Caladiums will tolerate frost and freezing temperatures, but they prefer to be grown outdoors year-round in a protected location where they can receive some protection from the elements. Even if it’s grown as a houseplant, it will need to be brought outside during the summer.
Most caladiums require partial shade and prefer filtered sunlight. If grown outdoors, they should be placed in a location that receives shade for at least part of the day. In order for leaves to reach their full color potential, they should be grown in direct sunlight.
If placed in too much shade, the leaves will appear mostly green.
Most caladiums are grown for their foliage and will not bloom indoors. However, if given the proper sunlight and warm temperature, caladiums will produce flowers that resemble tiny roses in white, red, lavender, yellow or pink. If a caladium plant begins to flower, you may want to stop fertilizing it to ensure the plant puts its energy into producing new tubers rather than creating seeds.
Caladiums are generally easy to grow, but they may experience some problems from time to time. For example, aphids like to attack caladiums, causing the tips of the leaves curl upwards. This can be treated by mixing one tablespoon of cornmeal into a quart of water and spraying the mixture on the leaves.
It’s also important to check for and remove any infested plants nearby that could be a source of the problem.
Harvesting and Storage
Once the leaves of a caladium have reached their maximum size, you should harvest the tubers so that the plant can re-invigorate itself for the next growing season. Begin digging around the outside of the plant in early fall about 6 inches from the outer edge. Gently pull back the soil and if you see small tubers, carefully remove them from the soil.
If you’re not finding any, widen your circle and try again.
After you’ve harvested all of the tubers you can find, cover the entire area with mulch. This will allow the tubers to begin their dormancy and should also prevent any new tubers from forming. Leave the mulch in place until early spring.
You can then remove the mulch and watch for signs of new sprouts. If new tubers do begin sprouting, simply dig around the edge of the plant as you did in the fall and remove them.
Note that if you live some place warm or have a greenhouse, you can leave the tubers in the ground and they will re-sprout in the spring. However, this requires more attention because you will need to watch for signs of insects or disease and treat them right away.
After they’ve finished sprouting, the leaves should be dead and you can harvest the tubers. Be careful not to pull up any of the new shoots as you dig around the plant. Clean off as much of the dirt as you can and allow them to dry in a well-ventilated area.
You can then store them wrapped in newspaper or paper bags in a cool, dark, dry place until spring.
Caladiums are often grown as ornamentals, but the tubers are also edible and can be prepared and eaten in much the same way as yams or sweet potatoes. The white-skinned varieties have an especially delicate flavor.
Their greens are also edible, though they are rather bitter. They can be prepared and eaten like collard greens.
Most caladiums can be eaten raw, though some have a slightly peppery taste and might be better suited for cooking.
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Sources & references used in this article:
Pythium root rot resistance in commercial caladium cultivars by Z Deng, BK Harbaugh, RO Kelly, T Seijo… – …, 2005 – journals.ashs.org
Transit duration× temperature and fertilization of prefinished caladiums affect subsequent growth by BK Harbaugh – HortScience, 1990 – journals.ashs.org
Caladium by Z Deng – Ornamental Crops, 2018 – Springer
Development and characterization of microsatellite markers for caladiums (Caladium Vent.) by LI Gong, Z Deng – Plant breeding, 2011 – Wiley Online Library
Dasheen mosaic virus and other phytopathogens eliminated from caladium, taro, and cocoyam by culture of shoot tips by RD Hartman – Phytopathology, 1974 – apsnet.org
Preemergence herbicides for caladiums by JP Gilreath, BK Harbaugh, D Bates – Proceedings of the Florida …, 1994 – journals.flvc.org
Caladium genetics and breeding: recent advances by Z Deng – Floric Ornam Biotechnol, 2012 – globalsciencebooks.info
Technique for in vitro pollen germination and short-term pollen storage in caladium by Z Deng, BK Harbaugh – HortScience, 2004 – journals.ashs.org