Plant of the Month


Stromanthe – A ‘New’ Plant for the Holidays

Peruse any store come December and there is no question that shopping is seemingly what the Holidays are all about!  Naturally, that applies to houseplants as well.  The traditional plants for the Holidays are the red and white bracted Poinsettias, Amaryllis bulbs and to a lesser extent, Cyclamens.  These are all marvelous plants that bring color and life to any home.  Unfortunately, once the Holidays have passed and the depths of winter descend, they lose much of their luster just when a bit of household cheer is most needed!  Over the past two years I have been evaluating a number of plants to see how well they perform as house-plants in bright and low-light situations.  One plant that has really captured my fancy for its tough constitution is Stromanthe thalia ‘Triostar’. With its very showy red, white and green foliage, I feel it is also a great plant for the Holidays!

Stromanthe is a member of the Marantaceae or Prayer Plant Family and it appears to have no other common name than Stromanthe!  Native to the tropical rain forests of Brazil, it was first described by the Brazilian botanist José Mariano de Conceição Vellozo (1742-1811).  The genus name alludes to the arrangement of the flowers, as Stroma is from the Greek for being spread out like a couch or a bed while anthos is from the Greek for flower.  The flowers are in terminal panicles and are spread out much like a fan.  The genus name of thalia refers to the general resemblance of this plant to the acquatic plant genus of Thalia, which honors the German physician and naturalist Johann Thal (1542-1583).  Often, the plant is incorrectly referred to as Stromanthe sanguinea, which was a reference to the burgundy color of the backside of the foliage.  The oblong dark green foliage of the species ranges from 6-12” long and1-2” wide, while the plant itself can approach heights of 5 feet.  Each leaf is supported by a long petiole that arises from the crown of the plant.  As is typical of many plants in the Marantaceae the base of the petiole is swollen into a pivoting joint called a pulvinus. When planted in a greenhouse or outdoors, the pulvinus allows the leaf to follow or remain oriented to the sun during its daily trek across the sky, increasing the plants ability to collect solar radiation.  At night, the leaves fold up – hence the name of Prayer Plant Family – and come morning they open to face the rising sun!  The plants are rhizomatous, but they spread slowly and for all intents and purposes, they can be considered as clump forming.  

The cultivar ‘Triostar’ is a far more modest growing form of Stromanthe, and reaches more manageable proportion for a house plant!  Growing to 2’ tall and a little wider, the foliage remains in scale with the plant, growing to a more modest 6-8” long.  The name ‘Triostar’ refers to the three predominant colors of the foliage – green, white and pink – that irregularly pattern the upper surface of the foliage, while the underside remains the burgundy pink.  Most certainly, a perfect blend of colors for the Holidays and beyond!  As is typical of plants with white patterned foliage, it will scorch in full sun unless the soil remains very moist.  However, it is the need for lower light levels that allows it to thrive indoors near a bright window!   Although the plant is touted as requiring high atmospheric moisture, I have placed this plant near heat and air conditioning ducts where it also receives bright light with no ill outcomes.  The plants are rare to flower inside a home, but under brighter light levels, the pink fan-shaped panicle of buds give rise to flowers that have tubular orange red bracts in winter through early spring.  Very colorful!

Stromanthe ‘Triostar’ is certainly not new to the market and although widely available, it is not widely promoted as a Holiday charmer.  With its tough constitution and multi-seasons of interest, it is the perfect plant to enjoy for the Holidays – and beyond!