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What Is a Zebra Plant?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2014
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A zebra plant is an ornamental plant native to Brazil. Zebra plants sold as houseplants have been heavily bred and are somewhat different from their wild relatives, growing as low houseplants rather than woody shrubs. These tropical plants can be grown in homes, greenhouses, and gardens in warm regions of the world. They can be purchased at nurseries and through companies with online catalogs of tropical plants. Gardeners can also request cuttings and cultivate them to grow new plants.

These plants are relatives of the acanthus. They are also known as Aphelandras, after their genus name, Aphelandra. They have distinctive green and white striped foliage and produce yellow, spiky flowers. The plants are finicky about flowering conditions, however, and sometimes a zebra plant never produces a flower, or flowers once and never again.

Like other tropical natives, zebra plants need warm, humid conditions to thrive. They also prefer bright, indirect light. Indoors, these conditions can often be found near a window, and people can spray the plants if the indoor humidity is not high enough. It is important to keep a zebra plant away from drafts and to keep the soil from drying out. Potting mixes designed to retain moisture are recommended and people should water with lukewarm water to avoid shocking the roots.

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People who live in USDA zones 10 and 11 can try growing zebra plants in an outdoor garden. As with indoor plants, outdoor plants require warmth, humidity, and bright light without being in direct contact with sunlight. They grow well with other tropical plants and can make visually striking ornamentals in a tropical garden. Some gardeners have better success with container gardening, keeping the plants in a greenhouse environment for part of the year and then moving them outdoors for the warmer seasons of the year.

Once a zebra plant has flowered, the flower stem should be trimmed away, along with some of the leaves. A period of cooler temperature with sustained high humidity will put the plant into dormancy, allowing it to store energy for another flowering. After several months in these conditions, the plant can be brought into a warmer area to encourage it to flower. Some trial and error may be required to coax a zebra plant into flowering, as every plant has slightly different needs. The trimmed leaves can be used to start cuttings to grow additional plants, if a gardener wants to cultivate more.

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