When we think about decorating our houses, plants are among the first things we think about, either dead or alive. Many people tend to lean towards artificial plants because they feel that they cannot take care of them, and they might end up dead.
However, if you are a beginner or afraid to kill a plant, Callisia fragrans is a great option. Also known as the basket plant, or false bromeliad, it is not only easy to take care of but also visually attractive because of its draping stem and bromeliad look.
When the creeping stems of the plant come into contact with the soil, they take root easily, which resulted in the plant also getting the name itch plant. Other people also call it the octopus plant because it tends to send out runner-like stems.
Callisia fragrans belongs to the Commelinaceae family and is native to Mexico and some parts of South America. Over the years, Callisia fragrans have become naturalized in the West Indies and the southern parts of the United States.
Since it is a subtropical plant, it grows best in warm zones, mainly those in the growing zones 9-11 or controlled environments when you want to grow it outdoors.
However, if you want it as an indoor plant, it grows perfectly anywhere, provided you give it ample space because it grows fast and spreads.
Callisia fragrans is a sprawling plant, and it has elliptic and pointed leaves that grow up to 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. The fleshy stems can grow up to 35 inches long, and in good conditions, the plant can grow to around 6-12 inches tall.
The plant occasionally flowers, and the flowers appear at the ends of long flowering stems. The flowers are mainly clustered, white and fragrant. All the flowers are normally on long white tendrils.
The flowers have a uniquely beautiful shape because, at the base, they look like baskets which resulted in the name "the basket plant."
When the flowers appear individually, they appear with three elongated petals, are almost stalkless, and are short-lived, with most withering at noon. The fruits of the plant are 3- celled and small capsules.
If you want to try your luck with Callisia fragrans, there are two types you can choose from. The first and most common is Callisia fragrans, whose leaves are all green, but in a lot of light, could turn purple.
The second type is the Callisia fragrans Melinkoff, which is variegated. The leaves have a lighter green color, and many of them develop striping. These leaves mainly remain green, but when you expose them to bright light, they turn purple.
How To Care For A Callisia Fragrans Plant
Callisia fragrans are carefree plants and require minimum care for them to grow. They can handle a lot of abuse, but if you want to grow a very healthy and strong plant, some of the requirements you need to meet are:
Callisia fragrans thrive the best in fertile soil. Therefore, the best soil to plant it in is gritty loam soil. You should easily squeeze the soil into a ball when it is wet, but it should also easily break apart.
The soil should have some soil to give it the gritty feel but should not be as coarse as pure sand would be. That ensures that it drains water perfectly to prevent waterlogging. To boost fertility, you can mix a little compost into the soil before planting your Callisia fragrans.
It does well in a lot of different pH levels. You can plant it in a low pH of about 6 through to a high alkaline condition of 7.8.
Light is essential for all plants, and Callisia fragrans are no exception, especially if you want them to attain and maintain purple leaves. In a day, ensure the plant gets around 8-10 hours of bright light, 3-4 hours of those being direct sunlight.
You can place it near a window that receives light all through the day or at a window that receives either morning or afternoon sunlight, then use growers' light to provide artificial light.
Ensure that you turn the plant regularly so that all parts receive the same amount of light to encourage even growth and coloration.
Since this is a subtropical plant, it prefers warmer temperatures. Therefore, the best temperatures for your Callisia fragrans plant are 70 degrees F and above.
In the winter, try and drop the temperature to about 50-60 degrees F for a month or 2 to enable your plant to have a natural winter break.
Water and humidity
During the active growing periods, water your plant plentifully. Water the soil thoroughly, but do not let it remain in standing water. In the rest period, do not water as much. Let the excess water drain out first, and ensure that the soil is almost thoroughly dry before you water the plant again.
An old plant can stand a little drought period, which means that it can survive even if you forget to water it. However, for small plants, pay close attention to the watering period to keep them alive.
Unlike other subtropical plants, the Callisia fragrans are not picky when it comes to humidity. It can tolerate high humidity if you plant it near other plants that love high humidity.
However, if you are planting it alone, you do not need to beef up the humidity level, as it also does well in low to moderate levels of humidity.
As we saw, Callisia fragrans do best in fertile soil. To maintain fertility, you need to fertilize it. Using a liquid fertilizer is the easiest way to feed your plant if you are growing it indoors. Use a fertilizer that is balanced out but has a low potency, like a 3-3-3.
For the best results, use it once every two weeks. You can also use a fertilizer that is specifically for flowering plants but ensure that it does not have high nitrogen levels because that could cause the plant to grow overly big but not flower.
In place of liquid fertilizer, you can use a slow-release fertilizer that you should apply to the soil every 3-4 months. Again, the fertilizer should be specific to flowering plants.
Propagating The Callisia Fragrans Plant
Callisia fragrans are easy to propagate because they root fast. In a big plant, the stems root as soon as they touch the soil. To propagate, take a cutting of the stem, ideally, at a place where you spot air roots. You can cut any part of the stem as they root fast.
When cutting, use a sharp blade to help you get a clean cut. You should also sterilize the blade to avoid transferring any bacteria or disease to the new plant.
For the best growth, propagate in spring or summer. You do not need a rooting hormone to encourage your plant to grow. Plant the new cutting into a larger pot because the plant grows very fast.
That helps ensure you do not have to re-pot it very soon and allows for the easier spread of the roots. Plant the new cutting into soil, and bury it around ¼ inch from the leaves base. Place the new plant in bright but filtered light, but do not overwater it.
After 2-3 weeks, the new roots will have developed, and you can start treating your new plant as a mature one.
If you are propagating from a plant you grew outdoors; you can find small plants that grow along the stem where it develops air roots. You can simply pluck off those baby plants and plant them directly like a big plant.
If you want to grow more plants outside, plant the new plants around 4-6 feet apart to give them room to spread and avoid over cluttering.
Since Callisia fragrans is a rapidly growing plant, you need to keep changing the pots frequently. However, you do not need very big pots because no matter how large it gets, the maximum size of a pot is 5-6 inches.
What you need to focus on more when repotting is renewing the soil. However, it is key that you give your plant enough space to spread. Therefore, if you need to increase the size of the pot, do not go higher than 1 inch wider each time.
When choosing a pot for your plant, ensure that it has drainage holes at the bottom. That lets the excess water drain and is also a perfect place to enable the flow of fresh air into the soil or organisms that are important for aerating the soil.
While these plants can live for a long time, they, like all other plants, eventually grow too old, and you will need to replace them. When you notice that your plant has started shedding its lower leaves, it is time to replace it.
Callisia fragrans look and work best when you plant them in hanging baskets. You can also leave them cascading over the sides of any decorative pillars around the house.
Pruning your Callisia fragrans plant mostly helps manage its size if you do not want it to spread out a lot. Pruning also helps you thin out the currents plant to encourage the remaining plant to have vigorous growth.
Before pruning, remember to use a sharp and sterilized blade. To prune, trim off the plant at the tips before the leaf nodes. If you are pruning an outdoor plant that has already taken root to the ground, prune the stem up to the point where there are roots.
Keep checking the size and condition of your plant and prune as often as you need to maintain its shape and size.
Callisia Fragrans Problems
Callisia fragrans is a hardy plant, and it barely has any pests or diseases. However, some of the common problems you will deal with include:
Diseases and growing problems
You do not have to worry about a lot of diseases attacking your plant. However, root rot is a common one but happens mainly because of overwatering. Overwatering could also make the leaves of your plant turn brown.
If you identify the damages early enough, you can trim off the affected parts of the plant to prevent it from spreading to other areas, but sometimes it could be too late.
The two most common pests you will deal with on your Callisia fragrans are mealybugs and scale insects.
Mealybugs are small and segmented oval insects. The young and yellow-green mealybugs referred to as nymphs are normally active and move around a lot. However, once they mature, they attach themselves to the plant, where they start sucking the sup and hardly move.
Since the adult mealybugs have a grey or white mealy wax on them, your plant appears to have a cottony white mass covering the leaves once they are largely infested by mealybugs.
Mealybugs produce honeydew as they feed, just like aphids. That attracts ants to your plants because they feed on the honeydew.
These pests damage your plant by sucking out the sup that carries nutrients to your plant, causing them to weaken and eventually die. To identify a mealybug infestation, the leaves of your plant begin to turn yellow and curl. They also grow poorly and slower.
To control the mealybugs, you need to first deal with the ants. You can use diatomaceous earth, and for the mealybugs, you can use neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Scale insects are insects that also attach themselves to your plant and do not move around once they start feeding on the sap of your plant. They also produce mildew and cause your plant to have yellow and curly leaves.
You can also use insecticidal soap and neem oil to control the spread of scale insects or spread some diluted rubbing alcohol on the affected leaves.
Frequently Asked Questions
For all people who have pets, the first thing they consider before adding a new plant to their collection is if it will harm them or the pets. The ASPCA does not mention this plant among the most poisonous plants.
However, you and your pets could get contact dermatitis when the sap of the plant comes into direct contact with the skin. Therefore, you should put on gloves anytime you are pruning or propagating the plant.
You should also not plant it in a place where your pets or children can reach it to avoid them ingesting it.
In some folk remedies, especially in Eastern Europe, people use Callisia fragrans as a medical herb. They use it as an antimicrobial and antiviral herb. They also use it in treatments for joint disorders, skin diseases, and burns.
However, if you want to try it as a skin remedy, use it cautiously as it might cause a reaction. You should only use it under the instructions of a professional.