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Aphelandra squarrosa - The Zebra Plant 0r Saffron Spike

The striped foliage of the Zebra Plant indoors

How to look after and care for Zebra Plant.

The Plant: The Aphelandra has snazzy, well-marked leaves which give it the common name of Zebra Plant, with upright, golden flowers, a stunner! South American in origin. It can grow into a good colourful specimen some 3-4 feet tall (1.2m), with leaves of up to 12in (30cm) in length. So why do you not see them like that very often if at all? It's all to do with the care and attention that we outline on this page.

The striped foliage is responsible for the common name of Zebra Plant of course, but the flower spike can also be spectacular. These give it the less known common name of 'Saffron Spike'.

Its needs: Strong light, even a little morning sun! Good air flow around plant, but not draughts. Add plant food such as Osmocote to the sandy/compost potting mix. Enjoys warmth and humidity.  Those are the basic needs arising from its natural habitat which is the edge of moist, tropical woodlands in South America. here they grow to 1.5m, many branched evergreen shrubs - a sight spectacular even when not in flower.

Zebra Plant Care:

 Water your Zebra Plant regularly from late spring through to end of summer. Feed weekly, but not too concentrated a mix. In winter reduce both food and water. Protect from winter chill - very important if grown near a window. Remove dead flower heads as soon as they fade -  cutting back to a sturdy pair of leaves. This aspect of Zebra Plant Care ensures a compact well branched plant.

  • Zebra Plant is Good for: Stunning visual effect. (Both leaves and flowers). If you can grow it to a reasonable size, it will make a good corner specimen, providing you can guarantee light not gloom. If too big, take it out on the patio in dappled shade for the hottest months.

Problems with Zebra Plant.

Watch for red spider mite and mealybugs . The latter hiding away in the leaf joints/stem crotches. Scale insects also annoy and are harder to find when on the green brown stems. They are also to be found under the leaves along the main vein.

Basically, if your plant looks just a little bit poorly, inspect for these three insect pests.

Troubleshooting Common Problems with Your Zebra Plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)

Zebra plants are known for their striking foliage and vibrant blooms, but they can be a bit finicky. Let's troubleshoot some common issues you might encounter while caring for your Aphelandra squarrosa.

  1. Problem 1: Yellow Leaves
    • Cause: Overwatering is the most common cause of yellow leaves. Zebra plants prefer their soil to be consistently moist, but not waterlogged.
    • Solution: Allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again. Be sure to use a pot with good drainage to prevent water from sitting at the roots.
  2. Problem 2: Leaf Drop
    • Cause: Leaf drop can happen due to sudden changes in temperature, too much or too little light, or if the plant is underwatered.
    • Solution: Keep your Zebra plant in a stable environment where it gets plenty of indirect light. Water regularly, allowing the soil to partially dry out between waterings.
  3. Problem 3: Lack of Blooms
    • Cause: Insufficient light and inadequate feeding can prevent your Zebra plant from blooming.
    • Solution: Place your plant in a location where it receives bright, indirect light. Feed it with a balanced houseplant fertilizer during the growing season.
  4. Problem 4: Pests
    • Cause: Aphids and mealybugs can be attracted to Zebra plants.
    • Solution: If you notice small bugs or a sticky residue on your plant, treat it with an insecticidal soap or neem oil. You can also manually remove pests with a soft cloth.
Tips for Optimal Care
  • Watering: Water your Zebra plant when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Be careful not to overwater.
  • Sunlight: Provide bright, indirect light. Avoid placing your plant in direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves.
  • Repotting: Repot your Zebra plant every 2-3 years, or when it becomes root-bound. Use a well-draining soil mix.
  • Fertilizing: Feed your plant with a balanced houseplant fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer). Reduce feeding during the dormant period (fall and winter).

Caring for a Zebra plant can be a bit challenging, but the reward of its beautiful foliage and bright blooms is well worth the effort. Happy gardening!

Propagation of Zebra or Saffron Spike Plant

To get good softwood cuttings - the easiest way - prune back a stem or two to slightly above a pair of leaves. New shoots will soon appear, and these can be cut off when around 4-6 in long and used as softwood cuttings. Plant tip-cuttings in coarse sand.

A Comprehensive Guide to Propagating Aphelandra Squarrosa

Aphelandra squarrosa, also known as the Zebra Plant or Saffron Spike, is a tropical plant native to Brazil. Its striking white-veined leaves and bright yellow flower spikes make it a popular choice for indoor gardening.

Preferred Environmental Conditions
  • Temperature: Aphelandra squarrosa prefers a warm environment, with temperatures between 60°F to 75°F (15°C to 24°C). It will not tolerate frost.
  • Soil: A well-draining soil is critical for this plant's health. You can achieve this by mixing standard potting soil with perlite or sand.
  • Moisture: Zebra Plants like high humidity, around 50-60%. They should be watered regularly, but take care not to overwater as this can lead to root rot.
Propagation Methods Stem Cuttings
  1. Prepare the Cutting: Choose a healthy stem with at least two nodes. Cut just below a node using a sharp, sterile knife.
  2. Treat with Hormones: Dip the cut end in rooting hormone. This step isn't strictly necessary, but it can encourage faster root development.
  3. Plant the Cutting: Place the cutting in a small pot filled with a mixture of peat moss and perlite. Make sure the node is buried beneath the soil surface.
  4. Care for the Cutting: Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and place the pot in a warm, bright location out of direct sunlight.
Seed Germination
  1. Prepare the Seeds: Soak the seeds for 24 hours in lukewarm water to soften the outer shell.
  2. Plant the Seeds: Sow the seeds on the surface of a seed-starting mix, pressing them lightly into the surface but not covering them.
  3. Care for the Seeds: Keep the soil moist and warm, ideally between 70°F and 80°F (21°C to 27°C). Germination should occur within 2-3 weeks.


If your Zebra Plant's leaves are turning brown and crispy, it may not be getting enough humidity. Try misting the leaves or placing a tray of water near the plant to increase humidity.

Yellow leaves can indicate overwatering. Let the plant dry out before watering again, and always ensure excess water can drain away.

Fun Facts

The genus name 'Aphelandra' comes from Greek words meaning 'simple male', referring to the plant's single stamen. The species name 'squarrosa' describes the plant's spiky inflorescence.

Despite its exotic appearance, Aphelandra squarrosa is actually a member of the Acanthaceae family, making it a relative of the humble spinach!

Remember, propagation can be a trial and error process, so don't be disheartened if your first few attempts aren't successful. With patience and care, you'll soon have a thriving collection of Zebra Plants to show off!

Pruning Aphelandra

  If your Aphelandra - Zebra Plant - gets too 'leggy' then don't be afraid to cut it back to get it to shoot out lower down the stem. This is best done to a position to suit - nothing specific - in the early part of the summer.

Pruning Techniques for Aphelandra (Zebra Plant)

Proper pruning is an essential part of caring for your Aphelandra plant, also known as the Zebra Plant. It not only helps maintain the shape and size of your plant but also encourages healthier and more vigorous growth.

Optimal Time to Prune

The best time to prune your Aphelandra is in the spring or early summer, just as the plant begins its active growing season. This timing allows the plant to heal quickly from pruning cuts and encourages fresh growth.

Tools Required

For pruning Aphelandra, you'll need a pair of clean, sharp pruning shears or scissors. Sharp tools make cleaner cuts which are less likely to cause damage to the plant. Always clean your tools before use to prevent the spread of disease.

Where to Make the Cut

When pruning, make your cuts just above a leaf node - the point where a leaf or branch connects to the main stem. This is where new growth will sprout. Make sure to cut at a slight angle, away from the node, to allow water to run off and prevent rot.

Importance of Pruning

Regular pruning is crucial for maintaining the health and aesthetics of your Aphelandra plant. It helps to control the size of the plant, encourages bushier growth, and can help prevent diseases by improving air circulation.

Tips and Common Mistakes
  • Avoid Over-pruning:** Never remove more than one-third of the plant at a time. Over-pruning can stress the plant and hinder its growth.
  • Check for Pests and Diseases:** While pruning, keep an eye out for signs of pests or diseases, like discolored leaves or unusual growths.
  • Post-pruning Care:** After pruning, give your plant plenty of light and water to support new growth. However, be careful not to overwater as this can lead to root rot.
Identifying Healthy Plants

A healthy Aphelandra plant will have vibrant, glossy leaves without discoloration or spots. The plant should have a bushy appearance with new growth appearing during the growing season.

Pruning might seem intimidating at first, but with practice, it becomes an easy and rewarding part of plant care. Happy pruning!



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