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The Ultimate Guide to Caring for the Exotic Purple Waffle Plant

The Purple Waffle Plant (Hemigraphis alternata “Exotica” |Strobilanthes alternata “Exotica”) has showy grey or green “puckered” leaves with red, maroon, or purple underside depending on the species. This waffled appearance is where it gets its name.

You may also know it as Red Ivy, Red Flame Ivy, the Metal Leaf Plant, or the Cemetary Plant. It is called many different names in various countries.

This plant is usually grown indoors in a container where it is considered a perennial and will thrive for a long time with adequate care. It can also be planted outside for groundcover but will not withstand temperatures under 50 degrees and will die off like an annual. It has an invasive nature and will spread if not keep in check. It’s one of the most beautiful plants you can have in your garden, but it is tropical and does require some special care.

Follow along as we cover the basics needed to help you grow this colorful gem.

Overview on Plant – Origin/Varieties

There are approximately 30 varieties of the Hemigraphis family of plants, and most originate in the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia.

Interestingly, the genus name hemi is Greek and means half, while graphis means brush. It refers to the dense, hairy filaments on the outside stamens of the plant.

There are a handful of these plant species cultivated for growth in many nations. Here are the most popular:

  • Purple Waffle Plant-green and grey waffled leaf tops with purple or magenta under the leaf.
  • Hemigraphis Moonlight-deep green-purple leaves with shimmering silver highlights
  • Belgian Waffle-leaf tops are green with cream-colored edges and mixed colors of green and cream in the middle. The leaf underside is purple.
  • Red Flame Ivy-deep purple and green leaf tops with a grey-green mix of colors underneath
    The leaves have a metallic sheen on both sides.
  • Snow White-Dappled pink and white colors cover the top of the green leaves, while the bottom displays a deep purple-magenta hue
  • Dragon’s Tongue-Thin alternating purple or green leaves with edges that ripple. It’s rather unique.

This plant has air-purifying properties and is a healthy addition to any houseplant collection.

In June and July, it will bloom with pretty, white flowers that are tubular. They add a dramatic contrast against the dark foliage for the short time that they are around.

Plant Characteristics

Hemgraphis alternata|Strobilanthes alternata prefers an environment native to its origin, i.e., warm, tropical moisture with nutrient-rich soil.
These beautiful plants grow in the wild in their tropical forests, creating a carpet of vivid color under the trees. The soil there is nutritious due to the decaying leaf matter which has fallen.

When grown in the home, they still need that nutritious soil. Supplement with a fertilizer that releases slowly or a granular feed that provides potassium, phosphate, and nitrogen, essential nutrients for all plants.

The green or grey leaves are oval with a waffle-looking texture. The undersides can be red, magenta or purple. Its average size is manageable in an indoor container, slow to medium growing and not reaching over nine inches tall.
You can grow the potted plants outdoors over the summer, but temperatures below 50 will cause them to die. Also, remember to keep them out of the direct sun.

Overview of the Purple Waffle Plant Care Requirements:

Scientific name- Hemigraphis Alternata “Exotica”, now known as Strobilanthes alternata “Exotica”
Place of Origin-tropical regions of Southeast Asia such as Java, Malaysia and India
How Much Light-requires bright, indirect sunlight inside, partial sun outside
Water Basics-lightly moist soil
Soil Needs-nutrient-rich organic potting soil
Proper Temperatures-55°F-75°F (12.8°C–23.9°C)
Fertilizing-6-12-6 balanced mix or granular feed monthly
Humidity Factor-prefer high humidity
Pruning-does not require a lot of pruning, but you can snip tops to make it more bushy
Propagation-snip stems at the base to replant in moist, organic soil/make sure there’s a growth node on the stem
Repotting- needs a 30 to 40 percent larger container to allow room for growth
Diseases-fairly disease free, fungal or bacterial root rot
Pests- whiteflies, scale
Toxicity-non-toxic to all mammals
Where can you get one-your local gardening store

Light Requirements

Locate plants that are inside near bright, indirect light for best growth. Too little sun and its vibrant colors will start to fade. Too much sun and the leaves will begin to brown and curl. It will dry out quicker.
If planted outside, make sure it is in an area with partial shade. The leaves will get scorched or begin to look bleached if exposed to too much direct sun.

Watering Requirements

These plants require slight moisture in the soil to help them grow. Too much water will likely lead to plant stress and possibly root rot. You might consider adding crystals that absorb water to the soil to give the plant backup moisture as it needs it. Well-drained but moist soil is the right mixture.

Waffle Plant Soil Requirements

Rich, organic soil is the perfect environment for this plant to thrive. Regular potting mix or commercial potting soil is perfectly adequate. Many of these already have fertilizer in them to help jumpstart growth. Plants grown inside in containers or pots will thrive. It’s best to start with healthy soil even if you plan to fertilize in the future.
Outdoor plants will benefit from a rich compost with added cow manure and leaf mold to enrich the soil. These materials will help your plants spread and grow.

Location and Temperature Needs

This thirsty plant thrives in humidity, so a laundry area or bathroom would create the moisture required if grown inside. If you choose to grow it outside as groundcover, choose a partially shaded area where the temperature will remain in the 55°F-75°F (12.8°C–23.9°C) range. These plants do best in US agriculture hardiness zones 10a, 10b, 11a, and 11b.

Create a dramatic effect when you use it for edging patios, borders, and walkways. They also add a pleasant look placed around a partially-shaded deck. A water garden is another place that you can grow this plant. It will thrive, having that much moisture and humidity around.

Special Requirements such as: Humidity, Air Circulation, Water Quality

Humidity is vital to the health and vitality of the waffle plant. It would help if you misted regularly to meet its needs or possibly place its container on a pebble tray full of water. You can also get a humidifier which would guarantee that it is getting plenty of humidity. Seashells placed around the base, cup up, can also help keep moisture in the container. The plant will absorb it when it needs it.

All plants benefit from purified water and especially rainwater. This plant is no exception. Ordinary tap water has chemicals like chlorine that may cause the plant some problems. Use good, clean water in the mister as well.

If your plant is looking dried out and stressed, place it on the bathroom counter and run a steamy shower. The water will simulate the environment of your plants’ jungle origins and give it a hefty dose of humidity.

This species of plants are notorious for their air-purifying qualities. It would benefit you and your environment to keep it where there is plenty of air circulation so it can do its fantastic job.

Plant Feeding/Fertilizing Requirements

These easy-to-grow plants require a slow-release 6-12-6 mix of phosphate, nitrogen, and potash to become strong and healthy. These nutrients mimic the native habitat where they came from, the jungle’s floor full of nutrient-rich decaying matter. Outside plants will thrive from these fertilizers as well. You can use a liquid fertilizer attachment with your hose when you water them to ensure they receive plenty of nutrients.

Additional Tips For Success with the Purple Waffle Plant:

Your plant does most of its growth from March to September, so feed it well through those months to encourage good health and vitality. It will pay you back with beauty.

It’s best to propagate the plant during Spring and Summer, as the plant is at its growing peaks at that time.

Fertilizing will not be needed during the fall and winter months, as this is the dormant time for your plant.

Maintain the soil PH level at 6.1 to 6.5 for optimum growth.

-Planting

Multi-colored, clay, or terracotta pots add contrast and beauty to your plant. But the clay may soak up too much moisture. Consider planting in a plastic pot and setting that inside a clay pot without drainage holes. You can put pebbles and water in the bottom of the clay pot, set the plastic one inside, and the moisture will help your plant thrive and keep it hydrated.

Your houseplants add ambiance to your home. Using a decorative and color-boosting pot or hanging basket will dramatically enhance your home’s beauty. Although the plant usually doesn’t grow above nine inches, it does send stems out that can be twelve to twenty-four inches long, creating a beautiful look in a hanging basket.

– Pruning

These plants can grow somewhat quickly and may need a trim to keep them looking well-manicured, so you can prune them to shape them. Although they won’t usually grow any higher than 9 in. or spread more than 6 to 12 in., you may want to keep the plant from getting out of control. First things first, use clean garden pruning shears to snip stems to keep the overall uniform look.

Some people prefer to pinch the growth at the top of the stem to encourage it to bush out. These plants are beautiful in a hanging basket, and you can let the stems grow out to add fullness.

– Propagating

When planted outdoors, this plant can spread like wildfire on its own. As it starts to spread, new roots grow out and start creating new plants. If you plan to create more for the inside, you can easily snip a stem as close to the dirt as possible, making sure there is a growth node on it. Use clean garden shears to cut it off.

Place that stem in a pot with moist, organic soil. Make sure the soil stays moist while it develops its new root system and base plant. Once you observe the new plant growth, cut back on the watering to not waterlog it.

– Re-planting

You won’t see astronomical growth from the waffle plant, but a root-bound plant will need to be re-potted into a larger container. If you happen to see roots coming out of drain holes, the plant needs replanting in a bigger pot. Be careful, as the stems are fragile and subject to breakage.

Turn the plant upside down while holding the plant in your hand and tap gently on the pot. Use a butter knife to remove the ball of roots from the sides if they are stuck in there. The goal is to remove it as gently as you can so no damage will occur.

Your plant will need a container that is at least twenty-five to forty percent larger than the one it came out of. Fill the new pot with nutrient-rich potting soil, leaving enough room for the plant to nestle down in the middle. These plants grow slowly, so you shouldn’t need to do it again for at least a couple of years.

– Diseases/Pets

These plants rarely have any problems with diseases and pests, appearing to have a high resistance for any significant issues. The three most common issues are scale, whiteflies, and root rot. These are problems that all houseplants may encounter.

Here is some information regarding these issues:

Scale:
These tiny insects declare war on your plant leaves and stems, creating a round brown type of growth on them while inside, the insects are sucking the sap out of the plant. They are approximate ⅛” in size and can be white or black as well as brown. Females will lay their eggs under the growth, sending thousands of translucent bugs out to eat more of your plant.

The best way to remove the scaly growth is by using either your fingernail, a soft toothbrush, or a Qtip dipped in alcohol. Most will come off quickly, but some may put up a good fight. Rinse the plant to remove any insects that may have fallen into the plant base, making sure not to overwater the plant.

Follow up with an insecticide to be sure that all the insects are gone or dead. Neem oil is an organic, natural insecticide that will work, but you can also use insecticidal soap. Ensure the plant is out of the sunlight while using these ingredients, as the combination will cause burns on the plant.

Whitefly:
The name is an excellent identifier for this pest. Small whiteflies lay their eggs and larvae on the plant, leaving a sticky residue called honeydew that feels gross. As the infestation gets worse, the plant will lose its luster, and leaves will turn yellow and fall off. They cling to the underside to hide from the sun and predators, and it’s where they lay their eggs.

The first objective is to hose the plant off early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the bugs move slower than during the day. Make sure you do this outside so the adults won’t just hop to another plant.

Be attentive to the leaf undersides to make sure you remove the larvae. You can then use an insecticide such as neem oil or insecticidal soap to kill any remaining bugs and larvae. Give the plants a thorough going over every day for a while until you find that they are gone.

These flys are attracted to the color yellow, so placing yellow sticky traps around the plant should take care of any new infestation. You can also take a yellow index card and cover it in petroleum jelly. It works the same.

Root Rot:
This condition can be related to either a fungus or bacteria thriving in the root ball or simply overwatering, which causes the roots to deteriorate. The plant will show signs of stress, such as discolored and wilted leaves. Once you have pulled the plant out of the pot, you’ll find the roots dark and mushy. You will need clean scissors, fungicide, new potting soil, and bleach to repair the root ball.

After removing the plant, shake all the soil off of the root ball. Use running water to clean the root ball until all the dirt is gone.
Trim off the roots that are infected and rotting. Also, trim the foliage back, so the plant doesn’t have to work harder to get healthy.

Throw away all the original soil; it is contaminated and is not reusable. Wash the pot with a bleach solution to kill any lingering fungus or bacteria. Rinse well when done.

Dip the remaining roots in the fungicide solution—Re-pot with new potting soil. Ensure there is plenty of drainage in the pot, as you will have a recurrence if there is sitting moisture in the bottom where the roots reside.

– Toxicity

This plant is non-toxic to humans and animals, reducing your stress level when you see your cat chewing on the leaves.

FAQ

Can you grow this plant from seed?

These plants are so easy to propagate from cuttings that they are rarely, if ever, started from seed. One healthy plant can create an unlimited number of cuttings over time.

Does this plant have any medicinal purposes?

Traditional Asian medicine uses this plant to cure anemia, treat hemorrhoids, mend gallstones and treat dysentery. They also use it as a means of creating sterility as well as a contraceptive.

What companion plants can I use in my flower bed with the waffle plant?

Many people use Coral Bells, Caladium, and Hosta to accentuate the beauty of the waffle plant.

Why are my plant’s leaves curling and turning brown?

Your plant’s symptoms indicate that it may be getting too much light. Alternately, too little light, and the colors of the leaves will fade.

Is my purple waffle plant edible?

There are no toxic ingredients in this plant. So if you would like to take a bite, you should have no adverse effects.

https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=248496&ispro
https://phys.org/news/2009-11-common-indoor-air-pollutants.html
https://homeguides.sfgate.com/purple-waffle-plants-safe-kids-80262.html

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