Brief History of the genus Caladium
Caladium is a new world genus belonging the plant family
Araceae which contains among others the genera
Anthurium, Alocasia, Philodendron, Spathiphyllum,
Syngonium and Dieffenbachia, which commercially are
mainly used as ornamentals, and the important tropical
food staple genera Colocasia and Xanthosoma and of
lesser importance as a food source and ornamental the
genus Amorphophallus. Many of the members of the genera
Alocasia, Colocasia and Xanthosoma are commonly referred
to as elephant ears.
Caladiums are native to tropical rain forests and the
equatorial regions of Latin America and can be found
from southern Mexico to Peru. Some species are reported
from the Caribbean island regions of Puerto Rico and the
Lesser Antilles. Most species come from the Amazon basin
Caladiums were first described as Caladium bicolor from
specimens collected in 1773 from the Madiera River in
Western Brazil. The original plants had plain green
leaves with randomly distributed red and white spots.
During the period 1857 – 1858 two Frenchmen, Petit and
Baraquin, explored the Amazon and collected at least 4
Commercial caladiums come in two leaf shapes. A larger
peltate-heartshaped leaf group believed to have arisen
from hybrids with Caladium bicolor are called “Fancy
Leaved Caladiums”. The other type, a more lanceolate
shape believed to be hybrids that have Caladium
picturatum blood in them, are called “Strap or Lance
Leaved Caladiums”. Regardless of origin, caladiums have
leaves that are beautifully marked in many colors and
patterns, born on slender petioles. Hybrids vary in
every character you can think of resulting in over 2000
named varieties over the past 150 years. Pictures of C.
bicolor growing wild in Costa Rica can be seen below as
well as C. pituratum collected in Peru.
The first to breed caladiums were two Frenchmen Louis
Van Houtte and Alfred Blue in the 1860’s. Though most of
their hybrids have been lost to time, two of their
hybrids ‘Triomphe de l’Exposition’ and ‘Candidum’ remain
in commerce today. In 1893 a German hybridizer named
Adolph Leitze, at the time living in Rio de Janiero,
Brazil, exhibited a collection of his hybrids at the
World Fair in Chicago, IL and thereby introduced
caladiums to the United States. In 1910 the
contemporaries Henry Nehrling of Gotha and Theodore L.
Mead of Oviedo began breeding caladiums in Florida.
Nehrling is credited with the commercially available
varieties ‘Mrs. W. B. Halderman’, ‘Arno Nehrling’, ‘John
Peed’ and ‘Fannie Munson’. Nehrling had an extensive
prized garden of many acres in Gotha, but, as can be
read below, caladiums were the garden favorite.
Describing his garden he said:
“In the summer, during the rainy season, and in
September and October, the whole place is like a
dreamland. At this time about all the tropical plants
are in full bloom. The Fancy-leaved Caladiums, however,
are the main attraction from June to November. I usually
plant 250,000 Caladiums every year. My collection
consists at present of about 1,500 named varieties. The
beds which they occupy are 200 feet long and 10 feet
No pen and no pencil can give an idea of the
indescribable beauty of these masses when at their best.
The color ranges from the purest white to the deepest
red, and from the most delicate transparent bluish and
pinkish-white to the deepest translucent claret, scarlet
and purple. Some of the colors sparkle and scintillate
like precious stones or like the plumage of the humming
birds. There is nothing in the whole floral kingdom that
can compare with this brilliancy and beauty. All my
flower and plant loving friends, even those indifferent
to the beauties of Nature, are carried away when they
come upon the Caladium masses. They only have an eye for
these color effects, and seem to have lost all interest
in the rest of my plant treasures.”
The next significant caladium hybridizer was F.M. Joyner
of Tampa. Joyner was a postman that began his breeding
efforts about 1937. Joyner’s hybrids were commercially
grown by L.L. Holmes of Lake Placid, FL, by cooperative
agreement. Joyner is credited with the available
varieties ‘Aaron’, ‘Crimson Beauty’, ‘Kathleen’, ‘White
Queen’ and ‘Postman Joyner’.
During the past 10 years, the University of Florida and
Robert D. Hartman, Classic Caladium LLC, have
established extensive breeding programs which have
resulted in more than 25 new varieties being introduced
during recent years. Both programs include commercial
production trialing and horticultural evaluations.
Because of extensive testing, recent introductions are
proving reliable for both the industry and consumer.
Today virtually all commercial caladium production in
the world takes place in central Florida, the majority
of which is done in Lake Placid, FL. There are
approximately 1,200 acres of total caladium production.
The beauty of the caladium fields in the summer is so
striking they have been compared to the tulip fields in
Holland. Because of their beauty and in an effort to
expand the public awareness of caladiums, in 1990 two
caladium growers, Caroly Phypers of Happiness Farms and
Dot Bates of Bates Sons and Daughters, decided to work
together to create a caladium festival which has taken
place annually since. During the festival bus tours to
the production fields are available so visitors can
witness this incredible beauty first hand.
click on photos to