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Caladium bicolor (Aiton) Vent. 1800
pronounced: kuh-LAY-dee-um BY-kull-uh
(Araceae – the arum family)
common names: Angel Wings, Elephant Ear
Caladium is the Latin form of the original Malay name for the plant; bicolor is Latin for ‘having two colours’.
These are ornamental plants grown either in the house or in the garden: in colder climates they die back in the winter, but resurrect themselves in spring. The large, heart-shaped leaves are showy with prominent veins, and are often variegated with red, pink, white or green. The varied leaf colours and patterns create many uses for Caladium in the garden or the landscape.
The fruits are small, white berries clustered along the spike. The plant is native to the South American rain forests, where it grows naturally at the forest edges, so it does better in shaded and moist conditions. It is an incredible survivor. If it dies off because of neglect, the tuber will often remain dormant for years until it finds the right conditions for regrowth.
Each Caladium tuber has a large central bud surrounded by several small buds. Most varieties produce only a few colourful leaves if the large central bud is allowed to grow. The central bud should be carefully removed with the tip of a sharp knife to allow the tuber to produce a great many more shoots and leaves.
All parts of the plant are toxic if chewed or swallowed. Symptoms include an intense and painful burning sensation, excessive salivation, and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat, as well as severe gastric irritation. It is wise to seek medical attention if the lips or tongue become swollen, or if there is any difficulty in breathing or swallowing. The sap has been known to cause severe itching and burning.
Lake Placid, in Florida, must surely be the Caladium capital of the world. There are over a thousand acres in production, and the colour-filled fields have become a tourist attraction. There is even an annual Caladium Festival.
The main colours of most varieties are red, pink and white, but the palette seems unlimited, with multicolour shades of striped or spotted red, pink, green and white patterns. The incredibly beautiful ‘Thai Beauty’, looking too good to be real, comes to us from the wilds of Thailand. Its hot pink, green and white contrast will bring colour and vibrancy to any garden. This is a fairly new variety (within the last 10 years or so), and should be grown from tuber, as, even if seeds are formed, they will almost certainly not reproduce true to type.
The new leaves emerge a deceptive green, but soon produce their amazing leaf patterns, combined with a leaf form that curls and ripples into exotic shapes. The actual coloration of the leaves will depend on the balance of sunshine and shade in their place in the garden, and it does best where the sunlight is filtered. The one pictured is grown in quite a shady area. The leaves grow up to about 25 cm in length, and about half that in width. They flare out into a curly heart shape with ‘ears’, and seem to bend the light through the mosaic of veins. There is a slight waxiness to the surface that helps this variety to thrive in hot, steamy settings. No two leaves are the same – each one is unique.
The plant may go into a dormant state in a cold winter, even in the tropics. If you think it has died, it probably hasn’t, and will resurrect with warmer weather.
‘Thai Beauty’ is certainly the most beautiful Caladium that I have come across. I am told that it does well in a pot.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008-2011
Page last updated 14th October 2016