Friday, February 11, 2011

Hemigraphis Colorata ‘Exotica’

Although I haven’t grown a Hemigraphis colorata ‘Exotica’ in a long time, the memory of it and its care requirements are etched in my mind. There are three reasons why any plant is permanently stored in my memory bank: 1) I succeeded with it with little effort, 2) I failed miserably no matter how hard I tried and 3) I could’ve succeeded but failed miserably because I (deliberately) neglected it. Now, without going into any gory details, I will confess that I have this terrible habit of (occasionally) getting tired of (some) plants and (in cold blood) weeding them out (committing ‘plantocide’?). Some of these victims come back to haunt me, mostly because they were easy to grow and did not deserve such an unfortunate ending. Hemigraphis colorata ‘Exotica’ is one of them.

It’s not that I don’t like Hemigraphis colorata ‘Exotica’; I think it’s alright. But I tend to add one too many plants to my already overloaded, filled-with-more-responsibilities-than-I-need life and eventually some of them (especially the less desirable) end up looking a little shabby from being continuously neglected. And out they go. So, now that I’ve confessed my plant sins concerning this lovely specimen, I’ll repent by offering advice about it to my readers.

Maybe I should repent further by visiting the local greenhouse and adopting a plant that needs a home. But in the meantime...

Hemigraphis colorata ‘Exotica’, native to tropical Asia, is a thin-stemmed plant valued for its coloured foliage. The large puckered leaves that are a purple-green sheen on the surface and dark red underneath are oval in shape. Although it doesn’t happen often in cultivation, this attractive plant produces tubular, five-lobed white flowers in the spring and summer. And while the blooms are not very significant, they are a welcome reminder that the plant is thriving in your home, under your care.

This Hemigraphis enjoys bright but filtered light to grow happily. Some direct early morning eastern or late afternoon western sun will enhance the colour of the leaves. Avoid direct sunlight, especially midday, which can burn the thin leaves. Your plant will adapt to lower light but growth will slow down and be spindly and pale. As you can see, it’s important to find just the right balance because too much or too little light will cause the plant to decline.

Use a fast-draining medium and water generously during the active growing period – from spring to early autumn - to keep the plant evenly moist. It is important that you use a porous soil that does not compact because susceptibility to rot is high and chronic over-watering will inevitably kill your plant. In winter, allow the potting mix to dry slightly between watering sessions. Never allow the plant to dry out completely; this may cause the leaf edges to brown. I have not personally grown a Hemigraphis colorata ‘Exotica’ in hydroculture, but don’t be reluctant to try it yourself. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t adapt. And if I do convert one to hydroculture at some point, I will return to this article and add some information about the experience.
A warm location with average to high temperatures – 15.5ºC (60ºF) and above - is ideal. Keep your plant away from cold drafts and drying winds; do not expose to temperatures below 13ºC (55ºF). This plant does not like dry air; a humid environment with medium to high levels of humidity (40 percent and higher) is preferred. Raise humidity by placing the plant’s container on a pebble tray filled with water or by adding a humidifier nearby. Provide plenty of fresh air and proper ventilation; avoid hot and stuffy rooms that can encourage pest infestations. Give the plant a shower now and then to keep the foliage clean and to keep pests at bay. This is not a hungry plant; feed once a month (or 3 – 4 times throughout the growing season) with an all-purpose fertilizer that is diluted to ½ strength.

Hemigraphis colorata ‘Exotica’ has a vigorous root system and may need to be repotted annually, unless you prefer to trim the roots to maintain a certain size. Pinch out the growing tips regularly to keep the plant bushy and thick. If the stems become long and bare, prune back heavily to promote new, compact growth. Trimming back also encourages branching, which this plant does easily. New plants can be started from stem cuttings that root easily in soil or water.


  1. I just purchased aome cuttings of this plant for an aquarium (not realising that I'd basically been scammed)
    If I wanted to save the stems, would I just stick them into some soil or is it a bit more complex than that?

  2. I accidentally misted mine this morning with white vinegar (used for cleaning) instead of the usual distilled water. I've rinsed the leaves thoroughly, trying not to get the soil too wet, but am wondering if I need to do more. I can't find anywhere whether it prefers acidic or alkalnine soil, and I'm afraid of accidentally making it too alkaline. Do you know what it likes best?