Caladium bicolor cultivars (Araceae)
Elephants ears, Heart-of-Jesus (Aroid family)
Origin: South America
A popular plant in many different climates, caladiums are in the same family as our last featured plant, Amorphophallus, but grown for a different reason…their leaves. The blooms are typical of the family, consisting of a spadix and spathe. The leaves depend on which cultivar you’re observing. All consist of a leaf connected directly to the underground tuber by its petiole (the plant lacks stems), but some of the leaves are blood red; some are magenta with green freckles; others are green with white edges; several are solid white; some need shade and will burn in sunlight; while others are tolerant of direct sun.
Caladium bicolor tubers are easy to cultivate, which is one reason why there are over 1,000 named cultivars to choose from. When a new leaf emerges from the plant looking different from the others, the bulb can be severed at that bud (the “eye” in layperson’s terms) and the bulb replanted the next year. If the mutation is stable, it should be evident as soon as the first leaf emerges from the tuber. Since caladiums go dormant during the winter (the dry season in their natural habitat), they are typically dug up during this time to avoid rotting, especially if they are in a garden which receives irrigation. At this time, tubers can be divided and stored in a cool place for the next season. Through these divisions, a gardener can have a sizable population of plants within a few years.
Caladiums can be very useful plants in the garden. They add color to areas that are too shady for many blooming plants, and at a time of year that proves too hot for most annuals here in Florida. Blooming plants can also be finicky and their color short-lived, whereas plants with colorful foliage are showy all the time. Growing low to the ground, they make great borders, and add a touch of tropical coolness to even the hottest Florida gardens. This past year, the Horticulture Department at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens planted hundreds of caladium bulbs, all over the Gardens. They are really popping right now, and should be for quite a while.
Text by David Troxell