Caladium lovers owe Florida a debt of gratitude. The Sunshine State serves as the sole source of caladiums for the world, satisfying the needs of growers and consumers.
“Caladiums love summer rains and heat and thrive in our climate,” said Zhanao Deng, a UF/IFAS professor of environmental horticulture who breeds caladiums. “They have colorful leaves that can rival many flowers and offer many months of color in gardens and patios. Caladium bulbs produced in Florida can sprout fast and put out attractive plants in the gardens or in containers in a few weeks.”
Since 1976, UF/IFAS researchers have been breeding caladium cultivars. Now, Deng, a scientist at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, has developed four new varieties of the popular ornamental plant. Here’s how he describes them:
• UF-R1410 (With a commercial name of ‘Dots Delight’): This plant sports a novel color pattern, with white main veins and multiple light pink spots. It tolerates sunburns and resists leaf-spot diseases well.
• UF-15-21 (‘White Lightning’): This caladium has white strap leaves with light pink streaks. It performs best in shady locations in the landscape.
• UF-15-441 (‘Firefly’): Many leaves with a creamy center and green margins sprout from this variety. It tolerates the sun and can perform well in both shady and sunny locations in the landscape.
• UF-16-597 (‘Spicy Lizard’): This novel strap caladium is quite different from many other varieties with numerous burgundy spots scattered over a largely green leaf blade. It is well suited for use in the landscape.
Caladiums grow particularly well in Highlands County – about 60 miles south of Lakeland, in the heart of Florida. Deng calls the Lake Placid-Sebring area a “sweet spot” for producing caladiums. That’s because it has many months of frost-free weather, plenty of rain, fertile muck or organic soil.
Terri Bates, owner of Bates Sons & Daughters in Lake Placid, said she’s always looking for unique, disease-resistant caladium varieties that produce a good yield.
“‘Dots Delight and ‘White Lightning’ fit all the criteria,” said Bates. “Nothing looks like Dots Delight, and we have had a lot of success with that variety. White Lightning is a white strap (plant), and white straps are in very high demand. It also has a pale pink blush, which is different. The yields and demand are good.”
Bates is a big fan of Deng’s work.
“We grow 12 UF/IFAS varieties developed by Dr. Deng, and they are a huge asset to our business as well as the landscape/retail garden center industry,” she said.