The Zebra plant – Alphelandra [af-el-AN-druh] is a genus containing about 170 different species.
These flowering plants often have broad leaves with thick white veins.
Native to the tropical regions of South America, such as Brazil, the zebra plant belongs to the Acanthaceae family of tropical plants that includes over 2,500 species.
Other popular plants from the Acanthaceae family include:
- Ruellia (mexican petunia)
- Persian shield plant (Strobilanthes)
- Firespike – Odontonema Strictum
- Purple Waffle plant – Hemigraphis alternata
Several species of Aphelandra plants are commonly grown indoors, due to their bright inflorescences and interestingly-patterned leaves.
In fact, the striped pattern on the leaves gives the plant its common name the ‘Zebra Plant.”
Zebra Plant Care
How Big Does A Zebra Plant Get?
Most varieties of Aphelandra are sold when they are about 16” inches tall. Within a couple of years, the height may double.
When grown outdoors, these plants grow best in USDA hardiness zones 10 – 11. Zebra plants are not suitable for colder climates.
When Does The Aphelandra Bloom?
Aphelandra plants tend to bloom multiple times from June to September.
While you get a nice, long bloom, the interesting zebra pattern on the leaves makes this plant a decorative option for the entire year.
The flowers are often yellow and possess a faint fragrance. They grow in clusters, extending from the two to three-inch spadixes, which are also yellow.
Flower Tip: When the flower spikes begin to appear, and until the flowers open, the plant should receive weekly feedings of a well-balanced, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer.
The flowers, once they begin to open will last much longer if the plant is moved to a warm, dry location.
The flowers die off within a few weeks after blooming, while the yellow spathes remain.
After the flowers die, the plant becomes harder to care for.
It requires high humidity and lots of sunlight. If you want to avoid tossing the plant at the end of the season, pay extra attention to its health throughout the winter.
What Lighting Does Zebra Plants Like Best?
The zebra plant likes bright light, but does not do well in direct sunlight.
Try to position the plant so that it gets most of its sun either in the early morning or the evening while avoiding the bright midday sun.
When placed indoors in a room temperature setting, the plant should thrive year round. Outdoors, the plant enjoys moderate climates.
The recommended temperature range is 65° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit during the summer and about 60° degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.
How Do You Water Zebra Plants?
Zebra plants should be watered once or twice per week during the summer.
It’s also a good idea to mist the plant to provide some added moisture to the foliage and flowers.
In the winter, check the soil occasionally to keep it from drying out. However, you may not need to water very often.
NOTE: Never allow the soil to completely dry out. You may even want to mist during the summer.
Liquid fertilizer is recommended throughout the summer. Use the fertilizer weekly or add slow-release pellets at the start of the season.
What IS The Best Soil For Growing Aphelandra Plants?
Sandy potting soil with good drainage is recommended. While the plant needs regular watering during the summer, it is susceptible to root rot from excessive watering.
Repot Zebra plants in the early spring. When removing the plant, take extra caution with the roots.
Gently loosen the soil around the outer edges to help break up the compact soil and loosen the roots.
Does The Aphelandra Need Any Special Pruning and Grooming?
There are a couple of pruning and grooming steps to take to maintain the look of this conversation starter.
After the yellow flower heads have withered, remove the flower heads.
When the Zebra plant finishes flowering the plant needs a rest. Reduce watering but DO NOT allow the soil to dry out.
Keep the plant in a dry atmosphere around 60° degrees Fahrenheit
In March, move the plant back to a humid location.
Prune your Aphelandra back. Remove all weak shoots and cut other shoots back to two buds above the old wood. This will keep the plant compact and bushy.
When new shoots are 2” inches long, turn the plant over and remove the plant from the pot.
Remove any loose soil, shorten all long straggly roots and repot with new soil.
How To Propagate Zebra Plants?
Propagating the plant is a great way to keep it in your collection each year. While these plants tend to die out within two or three years, you can take cuttings to regrow the plant.
Aphelandras are propagated by seeds and cuttings.
Take cuttings from half-ripened wood, or take young growth off with a heel.
Dust with Rootone and place the cutting ¾”-inch deep in a rooting medium of sand, perlite or vermiculite.
Bottom heat will root cuttings quickly. Be sure to keep the rooting medium damp.
After they root, plant them in individual pots.
TIP: Cover the planted cuttings with plastic to lock in the moisture and keep them from drying out.
Aphelandra Pests And Diseases
The Zebra plan has two chief enemies:
Scale on Aphelandra looks like a little tannish brown spot about one-fourth inch long.
Mealybugs are about the size of scale at maturity. They multiply until they are cotton-like clusters at all the leaf-stem joints.
Both of these insects can be most easily controlled with regular applications of Neem Oil or insecticidal oil sprays.
There is no need to use it until you spot the first insects. Then spray weekly until they are all gone.
Why Does My Aphelandra Have Brown Spots on the Leaves?
When an Aphelandra plant develops brown spots on the leaves, it may indicate that the plant is getting too much sunlight. Move it to an area with more shade.
Why Do The Leaves Of My Aphelandra Turn Yellow?
If the leaves on your Zebra plant start to turn yellow, you may have spider mites.
Sticky leaves are a sign of aphids. To deal with either infestation, spray the plant with safe Neem oil insecticide.
Are There Other Aphelandra Varieties?
Aphelandra squarrosa is the most recognized zebra plant variety commonly available.
Its pairs of opposite, spear-shaped, glossy green leaves are prominently veined with creamy white. The intense yellow flowers emerge from a spike of waxy, golden bracts.
There are a couple of other interesting varieties:
Aphelandra aurantiaca from Mexico has smooth green leaves and gray veins. The showy bracted spikes are set with brilliant scarlet-red flowers which have orange markings in the throat and on the tube.
Aphelandra aurantiaca roezlii has twisted dark green leaves and orange-scarlet flowers.
Aphelandra fascinator has satiny, emerald green leaves which are laced with silver veins, and are a silvery amethyst-purple on the undersides. The large flowers are scarlet. Many consider Aphelandra aurantiaca the same plant Aphelandra fascinator.
Aphelandra chamissoniana a native of Brazil. It is erect with closely set, slender, pointed dark green leaves. The veins are a beautiful silver-white with a pronounced midrib. The flowers are a clear yellow with green tips.
Aphelandras make attractive showy displays as a flowering plant. Its the waxy flowers on a spectacular terminal spike matches fully in beauty with shiny emerald-green leaves, strikingly veined in white.