When you’re choosing new plants for your garden, chances are it’s usually flowers that catch your eye. But fascinating foliage can be a real asset to your garden too, and tropical caladiums are a terrific example. Their large leaves come in shades of white, pink, red, and combinations of all three. They can be heart-shaped or longer like spears, some with fancy ruffled edges. Best of all, they’re ideal in shade gardens, often the most difficult setting for plants to thrive.
Caladiums (Caladium bicolor) are a tropical tuber (though they’re often sold as “bulbs”), native to South America and commonly known as Angel Wings. They thrive in moist humid environments, putting out their large long-lasting leaves quickly when warm wet weather arrives. They rarely flower, instead spreading underground like other tubers, though they aren’t usually considered aggressive.
In the wild, caladiums vary widely, and horticulturalists have taken advantage of that to produce a variety of cultivars. Dozens of types are available, all well-suited to shade gardens. I’m particularly fond of the mainly white varieties, as they look particularly lovely in dappled shade. My personal favorites are ‘Moonlight’ and ‘White Delight’. But if color is what you’re looking for, you’ll find reds and pinks like ‘Freida Hemple’ or ‘Desert Sunset’. Some newer varieties are even able to withstand full sun.
If you live in gardening zones 8 – 11, plant your caladiums in full to part shade and allow them to grow naturally. They’ll go dormant during the dryer winter season, and spring back to life when the rains of summer begin. In cooler areas, lift the tubers in the early fall, after the foliage begins to yellow and die. Allow them to dry out in a warm location for a few weeks, remove any remaining foliage, and store in dry peat moss until the soil warms up the following spring.