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The flowering plant genus Cryptanthus belongs to the family Bromeliaceae in the subfamily Bromelioideae. This genus earned its name, which translates to hidden flower in Greek, owing to the way its flowers bloom at the bottom of its rosettes. These flowers are small, white, and nested in the center. All 50 species in this genus, which are native to Brazil, are stemless with low-spreading rosettes that have six to 20 leaves ranging from brown, red, and green.
A common nickname for Cryptanthus is earth star, as the plants are mono-layered and the leaves overlap, making them look like stars. All species are considered easy to grow and can survive for months without being rooted. They require minimal care and are used as decorative plants both inside and outside homes.
The first species of this genus was discovered in 1831 in Brazil. As of 2010, the genus has gained popularity, especially after Hummel of the United States and Grace Goode of Australia pushed a hybrid frenzy amongst botanists. The genus has 50 species with more than 400 cultivars and hybrids as of 2010.
All species of the Cryptanthus genus are popular terrestrial plants. Similar to the leaf color variation, the size of each species is different, growing anywhere from about 4 inches (10 cm) to nearly 2 feet (0.61 m) across. Each of the plant species are unique because of their shapes, which resemble starfish, and for their striking colors.
For ideal growth, these plants will need sunlight with partial shade; too little or too much light can damage the markings and color formations. The plants tolerate excessive heat and cold as well, but they prefer moderate humidity levels. They tend to grow best when grown near ferns or ponds and require a medium amount of moisture. These plants can remain potted throughout their lives, as they do not absorb nutrients from soil, though they need plenty of room for their roots to spread.
A wide variation in the colors and shapes of their leaves makes each species different from one another. The most cultivated species of the genus is Cryptanthus bivittatus, which has dark red leaves. Another popular species, Cryptanthus zonatus, has wavy leaves with irregular, silver-grey markings, earning the name of the zebra plant. On the other hand, Cryptanthus warasaii has white-green leaves and is called twilight. Most of these plants’ colors change with the seasons and transform into other variations, though too much light can bleach the foliage.