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Plant of the Week: Polka Dot Plant

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Polka Dot Plant
Latin: Hypoestes phyllostachya

No photo available.

Plants that are small have to make a big statement in the garden to avoid getting stepped on.

The polka-dot-plant is a little annual which does just that admirably and is noticed wherever it is planted. Sometimes called freckle-face, this plant is well named and produces colorful foliage splashed with patches of white, pink or rose on a green background.

Most polka-dot-plants grow only six to 10 inches tall and spread out about the same amount. While they do flower in terminal spikes during the summer and fall months, the flowers are of little real interest.

Polka-dot-plants are new to the garden trade and seem to have only come on the scene in the past two or three decades. The plant is native to Madagascar and is a member of the acanthus family which includes a wide assortment of tropical herbs with showy foliage such as aphelandra and fittonia.

Members of the acanthus family, including the polka-dot-plant, are tropical in nature and will wilt quickly and severely if they get dry. But, even if the foliage is drooped over the pot rim and there looks as if there is little hope for the plant, don’t despair. When these plants are rewatered, they make a rapid recovery and regain their former stature with little apparent damage. That is not to say, though, that this practice is recommended because too-frequent wilting will cause the lower leaves to drop off.

The color patterns on the leaves are not true variegation but are referred to as "figurative patterning"; the same kind of control system that gives a zebra its stripes or a Holstein cow her spots. In the wild, the spots are usually small in size with the plant having an overall green appearance. Plant breeders, by selecting for ever-larger spots, have developed selections such as the Splash series which have little green showing and mostly large patches of the contrasting color.

Polka-dot-plants are easy to grow from seed which should be started about 12 weeks before the plants are to be moved to the garden. They can also be grown as pot plants for use in the home where they retain their showy appearance for up to two months inside.

In the garden, plants should not be planted until after the soil has warmed in the spring. Because polka-dot-plants are small, they are usually used for bordering beds or for mixed plantings with other low growing annual flowers. Plant them in areas that get full sun or light shade and keep them well watered during dry spells.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - February 19, 1999


The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.