Caladiums add resplendence to the courtyard, not by their flowers, but by their exquisite foliage, writes Chandramohan Reddy

That a profusion of blooms breaks the green monotony of garden is a commonly held notion. Caladiums break this notion by adding resplendence to the courtyard, not by its flowers, but by its exquisite foliage. Unlike flowering plants which demand bright sunlight, Caladiums will make do with indirect light.

Caladium, unparalleled in the plant world for its showy foliage, is a genus of about a dozen species of tuberous-rooted tropical perennials. Native of Tropical America and West Indies and belonging to the family Araceae, they are also known by the common name ‘Heart of Jesus’ and ‘Angel Wings’. The name Caladium is derived from the Malay word ‘Keladi’ meaning plant with edible roots, after some similar plants that have edible tubers.

Features

Leaves are long-stalked, large, ovate to elliptic, broad, arrow to heart shaped, papery-thin with explosion of whites, greens, reds and pinks - mottled, veined and striped with prominently coloured midribs and contrasting margins.

The leaves are displayed on the tip of long stalks that grow directly from the tuber. Flowers are inconspicuous. There are two basic types of caladium cultivars-- fancy-leaved and lance-leaved. Fancy-leaf caladiums have broad heart-shaped leaves borne on long erect petioles. Lance-leaf caladiums have narrow, thick and elongated leaves on short stalks, producing a more compact plant. Generally, lanced-leaf cultivars produce more leaves and are ideal for hanging baskets as well as for small pots.

Gardening

Caladiums are grown in various garden locations for their long-lasting, colourful foliage. Either in a container, in garden-beds or on a border, they provide colour to the garden throughout the warm season with very little cost and maintenance. They are wonderful bright and multi-coloured splashes in a shade garden. Caladiums are excellent bedding plants for shade and partial shade locations. They can be paired nicely with other foliage plants. Most of the Caladiums used in garden decoration are hybrids and cultivars of . Some of the popular cultivars of are – Red Flash, White Queen, Candidum, Miss Muffet, Rose Bud, White Christmas, Summer Rose, Blaze, Pink Cloud, Aaron, White Wing, Pink Beauty, Fire Chief, Red Frill, Pink Gem, Moon Light, Red Flare, Pink Symphony, White Queen, Pink Cloud, Galaxy etc.

Care and propagation

Growth medium for caladiums should be slightly acidic, porous and contain plenty of organic matter. They do best with warm weather and bright but indirect light.

But the leaves last a few months before they start to die back during winter and subsequently the plant goes dormant. When they die back, the tubers shall be saved and replanted next spring.

Growth medium should have adequate moisture-holding capacity and also good drainage for better growth of Caladiums, as they require relatively higher amounts of water.

If allowed to wilt, caladiums may lose leaves and go dormant. They take much time to re-sprout. Light intensity in the growing area is important, since most cultivars do not develop proper colour unless they are grown under optimum light. Lesser light will cause undesirable stretching of petioles, oversized leaves, and unsightly plants.

Outdoor Caladium plants prefer partial shade and this will allow them to produce larger and more brightly coloured leaves.

Caladiums can be grown in the partial shade of open, high-branched trees. They will perform reasonably well in almost full-shade, but the colour may not be as outstanding. Caladiums need protection from full-sun for the best growth and colour, but some of the newer cultivars tolerate exposure to full-sun for two to three hours daily. Caladiums require moderate feeding with slow release fertilisers during growth phase for more and healthy leaves. Caladiums can be propagated through division of tubers. Cut the tuber into sections so that each contains at least one eye or knob. Caladiums are commercially propagated through tissue culture.

Pests

Although Caladiums are carefree growers, they are susceptible to tuber rot, leaf spot, nematodes, mealy bugs, whiteflies, aphids and spider mites. However, these pests usually do not become severe. Preventative application of broad spectrum fungicides and normal pest-management practices can solve these problems.

(The author is a forest officer and can be contacted at ‘nchandramohanreddy@gmail.com’)