The zebra plant is popular for its striking leaf design and yellow flower bracts. With dark, jewel-toned green leaves, stark white variegation, and potential to bloom in the summer and fall, this plant is a stunning addition to your indoor garden. The botanical name of zebra plant is Aphelandra squarrosa. Native to Brazil, zebra plant is temperamental, but rewarding for a seasoned plant lover up to the challenge of getting it to bloom. This plant is completely non toxic to pets and humans. There is another plant, calathea zebrina, that is also called the zebra plant. Aphelandra squarrosa and calathea zebrina aren’t related. Calathea zebrina has wider lines on lighter-colored leaves. And, of course, it doesn’t flower!
The Zebra plant is a fairly popular plant which is grown for its flower bracts and dark green leaves with prominent white colored veins. These leaves grow to about 9 inches long and a few inches wide within the center of the leaf, and they have pointed tips. The flowers look similar to other bract type flower heads and grow cone shaped at the tips of a stem with small flowers that grow out of the bract. The flower bract will last for up to about 6 weeks and the small yellow flowers that grow from the bract last for about a week. The bract is the real attraction rather than the small flowers. A grower can expect flowers after summer. These flower spikes can reach up to 4″ in length and are beautiful.
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Types of Zebra Plant
The Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Leopoldii’ is known for its broader foliage with that classic white vein contrast growing from a reddish-brown stem. Also, this cultivar bears gold flowers with red bracts. In terms of growing this cultivar, it prefers partial to full shade light, slightly acid soil pH at 5.6 to 6, and the minimum pot size is 1 gallon. If you want to propagate the leopoldii, stem cuttings are the way to go.
The Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Louisae’ is the perfect cultivar for you if you love the contrast between the green and yellow shades. Its foliage has a deep green broad color with yellow veins. Also, its blooms are surrounded by gold bracts. There are no special maintenance or growing requirements for this cultivar.
The Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Brockfeld’ originated from Germany. It is widely cultivated for its bright and lighter green foliage with the yellow leaf venation. Also, this cultivar stands out among others because of its more compact stature. It is one of the cultivars that will serve as a good desk plant. No special maintenance or care is required for this cultivar.
Also known as the Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Fritz Prinsler’, this cultivar also came from Germany. This cultivar is a result of crossing the Leopoldii and Louisae. The cross between the two resulted in an aphelandra with green foliage contrasted with slightly yellow veins. Also, this cultivar bears yellow bracts and flowers. It is recommended to plant it in pots with at least a gallon capacity or more. Same growing and maintenance are needed by this cultivar.
If you are a fan of striking but classy plants, this cultivar is perfect for you. This cultivar came from Denmark and is a child of the Fritz Prinsler cultivar. It serves as a good desk plant with its compact growth. In terms of its aesthetic appeal, it bears leaves with the creamy white leaf venation. Its stem is reddish-brown to maroon, while its flowers are yellow.
The blooms are said to last for up to 6 weeks. After the flower has lived its weeks, it should be removed and pruning should be done for this Aphelandra cultivar. Same as the other cultivars, follow the general grow and care requirements for Aphelandra squarrosa.
Similar to the Dania cultivar, the Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Ivo’ also came from the Fritz Prinsler cultivar. It prefers slightly acidic soil, partial to full shade sunlight, and could withstand up to 35 degrees Fahrenheit. The main difference it has with Dania is that it has darker green foliage. This cultivar is best grown in 1-gallon pots or larger. The requirements for growing and maintaining are the same.
The Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Red Apollo’ rises above others with its unique foliage color. It bears leaves with a reddish-brown base color with yellowish-white accents. Despite its beautiful foliage, this cultivar rarely blossoms. Also, this cultivar is slightly sensitive to light. If exposed too little to light, the red pigments on the leaves will not show as vibrant.
This cultivar stands out with its very light green foliage, which makes it look like it has a slight white cast. Moreover, its leaves have green leaf venation, which is a unique and beautiful combination for zebra plants. It is a product of the cross between Aphelandra squarrosa and Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Snow White’ making it less common than the types found in the Brazilian forests. Other than the light requirement mentioned above, other growing conditions are the same as the other cultivars.
The snow white cultivar differs from the rest with its white leaf veins and dark green base leaf color. It got its common name from having mottles or tiny spots of white near the veins and midrib making it look like the plant is covered with snow. Moreover, its blooms are yellow or gold with a similar appearance to the other cultivars. Aside from the similarity in flowers, the cultural requirements for this Aphelandra cultivar are the same as the other ones, which makes it easier to care for them.
Growing Zebra Plant
How to Grow Zebra Plant
Aphelandra plants are often grown in containers and placed near a patio or pools. Being a container plant has its advantages especially when rearranging or redesigning a landscape. It is easier to move around potted plants compared to plants that are directly planted in the landscape. To optimize the beauty of this plant, you must know the cultural requirements it needs.
Where to Grow Zebra Plant
As a native Brazilian plant, Zebra plant is not cold-hardy; therefore, it needs to be grown in an area that remains warm year-round. While you can place it outside during warmer weather, it’s best to plant it in a container that can be brought inside when the temperatures dip.
Temperatures of no less than 60 degrees F are ideal; however, larger varieties of Zebra plant require even warmer temperatures of no less than 70 degrees F.
This jungle plant does best in partial sun. If planting outdoors, choose a location that receives about 4 to 6 hours of morning sunlight and shade for the remainder of the day.
If placing it indoors, choose a location receives adequate amounts of sunlight throughout the day.
Indoors, the ideal location for a Zebra plant would be a solarium or near a window that gets plenty of sunlight.
Also, keep in mind that the location should be relatively humid, as this plant requires humidity.
If your home does not have high humidity levels, using a spray bottle filled with water to mist the plant on a regular basis will help to recreate the humid conditions that this plant requires.
How to Get Zebra Plant to Bloom
This houseplant is very finicky about blooming and getting a zebra plant to bloom twice in a season and then the next summer season is tricky at best. Here are a few tips:
If it's summer and your plant's bloom is fading after its six weeks of glory, cut the bract back to encourage it to flower again in the fall.
Care for the plant during the winter by placing the pot in a cooler location, but bring it right back to a warmer spot once spring arrives.
In the spring, place the plant in a spot where there's very intense, bright, but indirect sunlight. The intensity of the light will encourage blooming.
Zebra Plant Care
The zebra plant is a beautiful—but temperamental—plant. If you're up for the challenge of nurturing this tough plant, begin by choosing a spot for it that boasts a slightly higher humidity level (60 to 70 percent) and a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the plant in bright, filtered light (but not direct sunlight) and its soil consistently moist. Accentuate its graphic striped leaves with an equally bold pot and keep an eye out for its signature yellow bract, which will bloom in late summer or early fall. Once the plant has flowered and the bracts appear to be dying, prune your plant, taking care to remove the spent bract and any surrounding leaves or stems that appear wilted.
Zebra plants thrive in indirect light or partial shade, as they're used to growing under a canopy of trees in warm and humid climates. Direct sunlight can cause the leaves to scorch and should be avoided, but complete shade can mean that your plant won't bloom.
A zebra plant will grow best in soil that is neutral to acidic. A multi-purpose potting blend is adequate for a zebra plant—you can also incorporate sand into the mixture to ensure that it drains well. If a flowering plant is your goal, feed using fertilizer every one to two weeks during its growing season (spring and summer).
As mentioned, zebra plants prefer consistently moist soil, which may take a bit of finesse, as overwatering can cause the leaves to wilt. It's recommended that you water your zebra plant to saturation every few weeks (or as you observe the soil drying out), allowing the water to completely penetrate the soil until it runs out of your container's drainage holes. Your water temperature should be slightly lukewarm so it mimics the variables of a drenching rainstorm in warmer climates, but only water under the leaves, never from above.
Temperature and Humidity
Because of their origins, zebra plants grow best in moderate temperatures—their grow location should reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and never dip below 55 degrees.
Humidity is also important to the zebra plant, so its space should be kept at 60 to 70 percent humidity. If these conditions cannot be achieved naturally indoors, you can increase moisture levels by using a humidifier. You can also mist your zebra plant lightly with lukewarm water from a spray bottle. Overall, strive to maintain an even temperature for your plant. Avoid high fluctuations in either direction and keep it away from any vents that could make it too hot or too cold (such as a radiator or air conditioner).
The use of fertilizer can greatly benefit the zebra plant's growth, especially when it comes to its ability to flower. During its peak growth season (typically spring and early summer), the zebra plant should be fed every one to two weeks using a fertilizer that is well-suited to both foliage and flowers.
Pruning and Propagating a Zebra Plant
Keep a watchful eye on your flower bract. As flowers die off, it’s important to remove them fast. If left in place too long, the lower leaves may start to droop and fall off. This will leave behind only stems with tufts of leaves at the top.
You can prune the stem and leaves back once the bract dies to a pair of leaves at the plant’s base. This will encourage a bushier growth pattern in the spring.
Propagating a Zebra Plant
Propagate a zebra plant in the spring by using stem cuttings from your original plant.
Using a sharp, disinfected cutting tool, cut 2- to 3-inch-long sections of stems from side shoots of the plant.
Dust the cut ends in a rooting hormone to increase your chances of successful propagation.
Insert the stem ends into a pot filled with moist soil and place the container on top of a heating mat if your room does not naturally maintain a temperature of around 70 degrees.
The stems will also need lots of humidity to grow strong roots successfully, so it may be helpful to increase the moisture level by growing in a covered terrarium or placing plastic wrap over the top of your pot.
Root growth can take around a month. Keep an eye out for new leaves on the surface of the plant because that indicates growth below the soil line, too. Propagated zebra plants should be repotted once the plant grows roots.
Potting and Repotting Zebra Plant
Beyond repotting propagated shoots, zebra plants do not need to be repotted often, benefitting from a new home only every two to three years. If you notice the soil has gotten lower, simply remove the top inch or two of soil and top with a fresh mix, which will give the plant an added dose of nutrients.
Pests and Diseases
Whitefly infestation is a possibility. These tiny flying insects will suck on the plant sap, leaving yellow dots on the leaves.
To combat these, remove and destroy badly-infested plant growth. Use yellow sticky traps to catch adults. An insecticidal soap will also help.
Insecticidal soaps also work wonders against aphididae. These pests, commonly called aphids, will also suck on your plant’s leaves. Again, remove badly-infested leaves as necessary.
Fluffy white mealybugs may become an issue as well. These cling to the leaves, and can leave similar damage to whiteflies. A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol can help you to remove them. Prevent their return by spraying down the leaves of your plant with neem oil.
Finally, although they’re least common, fungus gnats find the moist, peaty soil appealing. Sticky traps will trap the adults. A soil drench with neem oil can help wipe out larvae.
Because zebra plants love high humidity, you can run into many fungal issues. Here’s a short list of diseases you may encounter.
Botrytis blight can form along the edges of leaves, and can contribute to leaf collapse. Spores will form on the leaf material as well, making a gray-tan patch on the underside.
Corynespora and myrothecium leaf spots are both common. Both of these fungi cause water-soaked lesions on leaves. Myrothecium also produces spores in concentric circles on the underside of leaves.
With leaf spots and botrytis blight, your best bet is to use a copper-based fungicidal spray. This may need to be applied multiple times to kill off the fungi. Avoid overhead watering, and mist only when you’re sure the moisture will evaporate.
Phytophthora stem rot creates black, mushy lesions on the stems at the soil line. In time, the plant will collapse due to the damage. This usually happens if water can splash infected soil up onto the stem line.
There’s no cure for phytophthora stem rot, so your best bet is prevention. Ensure you have well-draining soil, and avoid splashing soil onto stems or leaves. Do not allow water to stand around the base of plants.
And finally, we come to pythium root rot. This fungal rot usually impacts weaker plants, causing the roots to turn black and mushy. In time, the upper part of the plant will yellow, wilt, and die off.
Prevention is the key for pythium fungi as well. Overly-wet conditions can create the perfect environment for this fungi to thrive. Avoid soggy soil, instead opting to maintain a moist but not overly wet consistency.
Common Problems With Zebra Plant
With such a beautiful, but sensitive plant, there's bound to be some issues when it comes to the leaves. Keep an eye on the leaves so you can give your zebra plant the love and care it needs to be saved.
Plant Leaves Falling Off
If leaves drop off the plant, it is probably due to an overwatering or underwatering problem. The tips of leaves on the lower part of the tree will begin to wilt when this is the problem. If the watering issue is not fixed, the leaves will fall off. However, it can also be a problem because the air is too dry around the plant and it needs more humidity.
If the leaves are curling or crinkling, the plant is likely getting too much bright sun or it feels overheated. Though it likes light, it may be a bit too intense or hot. Move the plant to an area with light, but not as direct or strong so it can cool down a tad.
Browning leaf tips usually happen for one of two reasons: too much light or fertilizer. Just either move the plant to an area with less direct light and cut back on fertilizing.
Its deeply variegated emerald-and-white leaves and pineapple-like flowers make the zebra plant a desirable garden feature. As an evergreen, zebra plant brings year-round interest to tropical gardens. These plants do best as specimen pieces but can also add accent to plants that bloom outside of the summertime.