Caladium varieties and information here.

Caladiums - From the Tropical Rainforests of Central & South America

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 in Brazil.

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 additional species.

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 wide.
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.




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