Plant of the Month – October, 2007

Tricolor stromanthe

Latin name: Stromanthe sanguinea ‘Tricolor’
Common name: Can’t find one!
Flowers: Seldom flowers
Foliage: A mix of purple-burgundy, pure white and bright green
Mature height: 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide
Hardiness: Annual north of Zone 9
Soil: Well-drained
Exposure: Shade
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Mail-order, internet, or local nurseries

Sometimes I just see a plant and know I HAVE TO HAVE IT! NOW! Tricolor stromanthe was one of them.

I often travel for work to visit other gardens, and in a one-month period, I ran across this plant in Texas, New York and Atlanta. First of all, I didn’t know what it was, a for-sure way to fire my curiosity. Second, it is absolutely gorgeous and was growing in the darkest shade. What was this plant? I couldn’t find it in any catalog.

Then, behold, it popped up in a trade magazine! I discovered that Stromanthe sanguinea ‘Tricolor’ is a relative to gingers and prayer plants. Immediately, I hit the Internet looking for one to buy. I found my plant from a Texas mail-order catalog and retail nursery, Yucca-Do, which publishes one of my favorite plant catalogs. They report it to be winter hardy in Zone 8c. I knew from the start this tropical wouldn’t be hardy in Dallas, but as a container plant or a quick addition to a summer border, it would be well worth it.

Stromanthe ‘Tricolor’ has the most colorful foliage of any plant I know. The tops of the leaves are bright green variegated with large patches of pure white. From a distance this shimmering white and green surface is the first thing you see, but on closer inspection you notice the backs of the leaves and stems are a deep purple-burgundy. Stromanthe, like its relatives ginger and prayer plant, is a great choice for shade gardens. Sometimes it is hard for gardeners to use “houseplants” outside, but I think it’s a great idea. If a plant can live in that dark corner of your living room with occasional watering and terrible conditions then surely it will be able to live under that live oak in your front yard! Just remember that cast iron plant (Aspidistra) used to be a common houseplant.

As anyone who has visited the Dallas Arboretum should know, I love colored foliage plants. Why? Because they are always beautiful since they don’t go out of flower, and when mixed with flowering annuals, the total effect outweighs what either plant would have been capable of alone. You can bet that this multi-colored plant will be a familiar addition to my combinations. I’m already fantasizing of it mixed with white impatiens, or maybe with dark burgundy coleus and peach impatiens. The possibilities are endless!

Currently you can find this jewel from internet mail-order companies (type the botanical name into a search engine such as Google), or shop your local houseplant supplier.

OK, so it doesn’t really flower and it’s not perennial north of zone 9. I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and add a little touch of the tropics to your garden this fall or next year. If you’re as cheap as I am, you can even bring this one in as a wonderful houseplant for the winter!

To see this plant and many others, visit the Dallas Arboretum at 8525 Garland Rd., Dallas. For more information visit or call (214) 515-6500.

About the author: Jimmy Turner is the Director of Horticulture Research at the Dallas Arboretum. For more plant profiles by Jimmy, subscribe to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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