Commonly called the zebra plant, the aphelandra has it all: great foliage and cool flowers. The large, pointed leaves are a deep, glossy green with bright silvery veins. When the plant flowers, usually in the late summer or autumn, it bears a tall (8 in.) golden flower bract that lasts for up to six weeks. Like many true jungle plants, however, the zebra plant poses a challenge to indoor growers in temperate areas. It requires lots of moisture, warmth and food to really thrive. Nevertheless, even a short-lived specimen is an interesting plant and can be expected to last for several months before it succumbs.
Light: Bright, filtered light. Do not expose to direct sunlight.
Water: Never allow compost to dry out; use lukewarm water to keep soil temperature elevated. Mist frequently during growing season.
Temperature: They prefer temperatures above 60ºF. Larger varieties (A. tetragona) cannot survive below about 70ºF.
Soil: Rich, organic potting soil.
Fertilizer: Feed weekly during summer with liquid fertilizer or use slow-release pellets at beginning of every growing season.
Zebra plants can be propagated by cuttings in spring. Use a rooting hormone for increased chances of success. Provide bottom heat with a heating pad for best odds.
Repot in the spring annually. The most common variety, A. squarrosa, is regularly treated with growth retardants to keep it low and compact.
- A. squarrosa. The typical zebra plant, with white or silver veined leaves and yellow flower bracts. Varieties include A. squarrosa louisae, A. squarossa Brockfeld, and for magnificent leaf-veining, A. squarrosa Frintz Prinsler.
- A. aurantiaca. Lower growing, with a red flower bract and grey-veined leaves.
- A. tetragona. The basic species, A. tetragona can reach 5 feet in cultivation with big, red blooms. Rarely seen and hard to bloom outside of a greenhouse.
Zebra plants are frequently impulse plants—a beautiful flowering specimen is snapped up and displayed prominently until the bloom fades 4 to 6 weeks later. Afterward, the plants become more challenging to keep alive and bloom again. They require the high humidity, bright light and high water conditions of a conservatory or greenhouse to truly be at their best. However, a dedicated grower who pays attention to warmth and water will be rewarded with year after year of showy, long-lasting blooms.