Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Louisae’: Zebra Plant

If plants are divided according to their attractive features, such as foliage, flowers, stems, there are bound to be certain anomalies. Even foliage plants produce flowers and sometimes, as in this case, very pretty ones. Nevertheless, the chief value of aphelandra lies in the variegated leaves which make an attractive display throughout the year.

Some 150 species of aphelandra, which grow wild in the subtropical and tropical regions, have been described to date. Most are subshrubs or robust herbaceous plants growing in rich humus at the edge of tropical forests in the shade of shrubs. The flowers, coloured yellow, orange or red, are usually covered with large, often attractively coloured bracts.

The flower spikes of the species are up to 15 cm (6 in) long; the flowers, coloured pale yellow, are barely half as long as the bracts, which are also pale yellow with a green centre. The related variety leopoldii has deep yellow bracts with toothed margins, much paler flowers and broader leaves. Often cultivated as well is the hybrid of the two subspecies ‘Fritz Prinsler’, which is smaller and flowers more reliably than the parent plants.

A similar species, Aphelandra liboniana has leaves with a single white median line, bracts coloured deep orange and arranged in four rows, and small yellow flowers. A. aurantiaca roezlii from Mexico has pale green leaves with silvery markings and deep orange-red flowers. Most species flower in late summer and autumn.

Aphelandras are fairly sensitive to a dry atmosphere and so if they are to be grown successfully over a long period they do best in an indoor plant-case or glasshouse. Even then, they should not only be watered liberally but the foliage should be syringed frequently. The growing medium should be a mixture of peat, loam and sand. In spring older plants should be cut back so that they will put out numerous new shoots and will continue to have leaves from the base. This is a good time also for propagating the plants, either by tip cuttings or by means of leaves with one eye, but in the latter case it takes longer for them to develop. They are also readily multiplied from seed.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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