Goldfish Plant Care: Growing Columnea Plants

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The “goldfish plant” or Columnea and its many hybrids are an attractive hanging houseplant.

The Columnea goldfish plant has long, trailing stems, small oval leaves and pretty, ever-blooming flowers in yellow, orange or red.

Flowers of the Goldfish plantPin
By WildfeuerSelf-photographed, CC BY 2.5, Link

The beautiful flowers are often said to look like goldfish or lipstick, so you may hear this plant referred to as a goldfish plant or lipstick plant. The Aeschynanthus and Nematanthus are also known as the lipstick vine.

In this article, we will discuss the care of this tropical hanging basket houseplant. Read on to learn more.

The Goldfish Plant – Origin, The Name “Columnea” And Plant Type?

Goldfish plants hail from the American tropics, especially eastern Mexico. [source]

The plant is named after Fabio Colonna, a 16th-century botanist, explorer, and author of books on plant life.

These tropical plants are epiphytes, from the Gesneriaceae family along with African violets and Episcia plants, with more than 100 natural Columnea species.

Because attractive goldfish plants need a consistently mild environment, they make excellent houseplants.

Epiphytes (such as orchids) grow in trees. They attach to the bark of the tree and glean their moisture and nutrition from the air around them.

They do not take any nourishment from the tree, and they do not hurt the tree. They are not parasitical. They just use the tree as a base.

The fact that the goldfish plant does grow high in the treetops leads it its vigorous trailing habit.

This is what makes it such an ideal choice as an impressive hanging houseplant.

The stems may grow to forty inches long. Healthy plants can add as much as sixteen to twenty inches of growth in a year.

Enjoy Goldfish Flowers All Year Long

Columnea plants can bring beauty into your home throughout the year as long as you give the plant ample light, a comfortable temperature and a high level of humidity.

In the wild, its long, draping stems covered with bright, nectar-rich flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds and other pollinators.

  • Flowers of different lipstick plant varieties look different (i.e. black goldfish plant).
  • Some look like parrot beaks, some look like goldfish, some look like lipstick.
  • All come in shades of yellow, orange and red.
  • All are scentless.

After blossoms die, remove them by cutting back the stems by half to encourage more growth and blossoms.

Pinch the tips of stems to help your plant present a healthier, bushier appearance.

Goldfish Plant Care

Location and Lighting

The Columnea plant likes lots of light and a steady temperature ranging from 65° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit year round.

Keep the plant near a south facing window in the winter and near a west facing window during the growing season.

Be sure not to allow the plant to sit too close to the window panes as it may be subject to freezing in winter or in direct sunlight scorch the dark green leaves in summer.

It should not receive direct sun. Bright, indirect lighting is best.

Because your plant needs a setting with consistently high humidity, a greenhouse is ideal.

A bright, sunny bathroom (or a bathroom set up with good artificial lighting) is also a good place to keep a single plant.

Keep in mind that they do take up a bit of space.

Gold Fish Plant: Repotting, Rooting And Propagation

In the wild, these plants constantly reproduce and rejuvenate. The parent plant can live several years, and you can start new plants by taking cuttings on a regular basis.

For this reason, you can expect your plant to essentially live forever!

Repotting and propagation should take place in the early spring (March or April).

Trim and deadhead blossoms and shape the plant at this time.

Be sure to use the right kind of potting medium. Remember that these plants are epiphytes. In nature they set down their roots on the bark of trees.

For this reason, you cannot use regular potting soil. Use a well-drained epiphytic planting medium made of a combination of equal parts perlite, peat moss and vermiculite.

If using a prepackaged African violet soil mix add in a handful of perlite to make it more porous.

If you want to grow new plants from cuttings follow the instructions below for starting plants from these cuttings.

  • Use a soil-free mixture of perlite and peat (50/50) to get the cuttings started.
  • Each cutting used as a new start should be approximately two inches long. Put a bundle of cuttings together (3-8) in a small pot of the perlite and peat mixture.
  • Water lightly and cover the pot with a plastic bag. Place the pot in a warm place with bright, indirect sunlight. Leave the bag in place until you notice that new shoots have grown.

Columnea: Water And Fertilizer Requirements

Because Columnea are epiphytes, they glean all their moisture and nourishment from the air around them. For this reason, high humidity is essential.

When the weather is very warm and dry, you should mist the plants daily. This is especially true for hanging plants.

If you are growing your Columnea in a container on a pedestal, you can put a pebble tray filled with water under the plant so that the water will evaporate and humidify the air surrounding the plant.

Add water-soluble balanced houseplant fertilizer to the mist and/or the water in the pebble tray to provide continuous nutrition to the plant.

This should be a very weak solution. Use about ¼ the amount of fertilizer recommended by the manufacturer.

Keep the potting medium slightly damp at all times. Use filtered water or rainwater. Don’t add fertilizer to the water you use to moisten the substrate.

Blooming Goldfish plant growing outdoors as a hanging basket Pin
By Guérin Nicolas (messages) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

How To Choose The Best Columnea

Even though there are dozens of natural species, only those that have been bred selectively for large, colorful flowers and sturdy growth habits are typically grown by hobbyists often in a hanging basket.

Serious collectors may occasionally grow native species, but for the everyday enthusiast, specimens that have been bred to be houseplants are far more satisfying.

Among these are:

  • Aladdin’s Lamp
  • California Gold
  • Orange Sherbet
  • Bartley Schwarz
  • Frosty Hills
  • Volcano
  • Mirage

These types all boast a gorgeous flower and lush, attractive foliage.

Most Columnea have thick, waxy, dark green leaves about two inches long. Some varieties have furry leaves.

Two of the hybrids listed here (Mirage and Frosty Hills) offer variegated foliage.

You can purchase this plant at all times of year. Look for healthy, compact plants that are growing vigorously.

The plant you purchase should have a lot of unopened buds.

In this video, one Columnea enthusiast describes slightly different care recommendations.

Goldfish Plants Troubleshooting Columnea

Columnea is also subject to:

  • Leaf browning caused by excessive calcium in fertilizer, potting medium or water
  • Leaf drop caused by drafts and excessively dry air
  • Fungal leaf spots
  • Botrytis mold
  • Mosaic virus


Why Is My Gold Fish Plant Losing Leaves?

If you notice that the stems and/or roots of your plant have become withered, you should take healthy cuttings, toss the damaged plant and start over.

Plants may also lose leaves due to attacks from spider mites, infestation by mealybugs, whiteflies or black aphids (plant lice) on plants.

Treat plants with a houseplant insecticide or Neem oil solution.

My Columnea Does Not Bloom Why?

If your plant stops flowering, it may be in need of a rest.

Move the plant to a cooler location (55-60 degrees Fahrenheit) for about six weeks and reduce watering. When you return it to a warmer setting it should resume blooming.

Poor blooming can also comes from “cooler” temperatures and lack of humidity.

Provide plants with 70 degrees with not less than 50 degrees during the resting period. Spraying twice a day is sometimes not sufficient A humidifier in winter will help.

How To “Fix” Straggly Looking Plants

Over time plant can begin to look looks straggly. Pinch or cut back the plant.

Remove some of the woody stems and begin pruning and pinching back regularly.

Why Does My Plant Have Mushy Stems?

When the base and plant stems turn soft and mushy it is probably a stem-rot fungus disease.

This fungus disease normally gets its start and spread by low temperatures and overwatering.

Starting new plants from cuttings and repotting is a good idea. Remove and dispose of infected areas and spray wounds with a fungicide.

Move the plant to a warmer location and allow the soil to become damp before watering.

What Causes Yellow Margins With Brown Or Black Spots And Damp or Blistered?

This is a leaf-spot fungal or bacterial disease or infection. The cause usually comes by low light, chilling and/or overwatering.

Increase temperature, light and ventilation. Dry soil out before restarting a normal watering schedule. Remove infected areas and spray remaining leaves with a fungicide.

What Causes Lower Leaves To Yellow and Stems Becoming Soft And Dark In Color?

This condition often shows up when plants wilt and seem to be underwatered but a root-rot disease prevents the root system from absorbing water.

Start by:

  • Removing the goldfish vine from its pot.
  • Wash the roots and remove all the potting soil using warm water
  • Removing roots that look badly damaged
  • Repot in fresh soil.
  • Remove damaged leaves and foliage
  • Water enough to keep the plant from wilting.
  • Water properly once the plant starts to return back to normal growth.
  • Drenched the soil with a fungicide when starting to water again.

Careful watering and close attention to the environment can help prevent these problems with goldfish plants.


Although these plants have a reputation for being a bit difficult, the fact is if you set up the right growing conditions in terms of light, temperature, sparing fertilizer and ample humidity they are very easy to grow. Without these essentials, you will not do well.

The goldfish plant is one from our collection of over 30 potted indoor houseplant varieties.

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