Zebra plant – Aphelandra squarrosa

Aphelandra, or the Zebra Plant as it is commonly known, is a luxuriant and attractive plant originating in Mexico and the forests of Brazil.

It has large green leaves with prominent white veins. These give it an exotic appearance and make it highly decorative even when the most striking feature, the flowerhead or spadix, is absent. Flowers are enclosed and grow from bright yellow bracts from June onwards. The flowers themselves are tiny and insignificant but contain mildly perfumed volatile oils. Sometimes the bracts from which they grow are tinged red.

Zebra plants are very greedy and need frequent feeding if they are to flower properly. Keep the potting mixture evenly moist at all times or the leaves will fall.

Most zebra plants are about 40cm (16in) when sold to you, but they can double their size in a couple of years. You can cut them back drastically after the bracts have ceased to be attractive. At this stage new growing points will develop.

The most popular variety is Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Louisae’. Others worth looking for include ‘Leopoldii’, Dania’ and ‘Silver Queen’. The differences between them are very slight— mainly in the bract colouring but ‘Silver Queen’ has paler green leaves overlaid with a silvery sheen.Zebra plant - Aphelandra squarrosa

Display ideas

Zebra plants are attractive with other plants and on their own. White pots show off their foliage well. Cane or bamboo containers will emphasize their tropical origins.

The pale yellow flowers of the zebra plant grow from the bright yellow spadix. Although the flowers will wither and die after a few days, the bright bracts can last for months. Note the slighdy twisted leaves right down to the base.

Through The Year

Aphelandra has a very definite annual rhythm.


This is the flowering season. Give it plenty of light, water and fertilizer. Mist it regularly.


Once flowering is over cut off the old flower-head or spadix. Groom the plant by cutting it back drastically. Cut off dead flowers


Let the plant rest for 4-6 weeks in cool temperatures — between 12°– 15°C (55°-60°F) is ideal.

Keep the potting mixture just moist.


Move the plant to a warmer position and start to water it frequently. It should be in a well-lit place for the new shoots to develop properly.


Growth will continue. You will see new side-shoots and new flower-heads or spadixes developing. Move the plant to a very bright position. Water generously and feed with a diluted liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks. It is now very important that the potting mixture is kept moist.

Pests And Diseases

Leaves hang or fall off. Usually because plant is in a too warm position or air is too dry. It could be in a draught. Also may be too dry at roots.

Treatment: Move to a cooler location and mist it regularly — or stand pot on a moist pebble-filled tray.

Brown spots on leaves often the result of burn from direct, hot, summer sun.

Prevention: Move the plant to a shadier spot.

Leaves turn yellow and fall off. Check to see if there are webs on undersides of leaves. If so due to red spider mites.

Treatment: Use a suitable

insecticide, but regular misting would prevent attack.

Sticky, curled or misshapen leaves are result of aphid attack.

Treatment: Spray with a suitable insecticide.


Easy to care for and if rested during the winter will give pleasure for several years. Propagate from cuttings if old plant looks leggy.

  • Potting: Use a well-drained potting mixture. Zebra plant does not thrive if its roots are soggy.
  • Water generously in the growing season. Keep the potting mixture moist but not soggy. Water moderately in winter.
  • Feeding: Apply a standard liquid plant fertilizer every 2 weeks in growing season to develop healthy leaves and encourage flowers.


  • It needs plenty of light but avoid placing it in direct sunlight.
  • Temperature: In summer between 17°-23°C (64°— 75°F) and in winter keep it at between 12°C-15°C (55°-60°F).

Colourful and dramatic in flower, with attractively striped foliage, the Zebra Plant will be a decorative addition for most of the year to your collection of house plants.

Buying Tips

  • Available all year — but it is best to buy when bracts are just developing.
  • Leaves should be lush and green with no discolouration.
  • Many people think of the zebra plant as a short-term plant. With care it can be kept for 2-3 years. Renew it with cuttings.
  • The tubular yellow flowers, each with a ‘mouth’, peep out of green-tinged bracts. Flowers appear from the bottom of the flowerhead upwards and may have a very slight scent.

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