Everything about the Zebra Plant

2 Apr 2022

The zebra plant is one of the most visually pleasing houseplants. Its botanical name is Aphelandra squarrosa from the Acanthaceae family. 

The shrub takes a considerable effort to grow but is well worth the result. You can read along to learn how to ensure your houseplant thrives and prospers.

Fun Fact: This houseplant produces a golden flower called a bract. This unusual-looking bloom makes for an exciting ornamental shrub that is considered an air purifier.

Key Characteristics

It is a tropical shrub that is native to forests in Brazil, has attention-grabbing features and sprouts vibrant green foliage with deep white or yellow stripes.

It is known for its large shiny green leaves with deep veins that outline its leaves. When in bloom, this showy plant boasts charming leaves and gleaming yellow or orange flowers that instantly draw your eye.

This evergreen thrives in potted environments and is striking to look at. This plant takes a bit of effort to grow, which is why we’ll delve into everything you need to know to care for it.

There is a large variety of this tropical houseplant to choose from. Below we’ll discuss the different types you can grow in your home.

Fun Fact: This gets its name from the white stripes along its dark green leaves which resemble a zebra.


This shrub has numerous varieties; here are 9 of the most popular ones:

  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘leopoldii‘: known for its contrasting reddish-brown vein and larger leaves with classic white veins. In addition, this variation sports golden flowers with red bracts.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘louisae’: This is the perfect shrub if you love yellow and green leaves. The ‘louisae’ has yellow veins and deep green colored leaves. At bloom, the flowers are surrounded by gold bracts.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘brockfeld’: The ‘brockfeld’ originates in Germany. It’s known for its bright, light green leaves with yellow veins. It stands out because it produces compact growth.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘fritz prinsler’: This type is also native to Germany. It has slightly yellow veins and green foliage. In addition, this shrub boasts flowers and bracts, also yellow.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘dania’: This cultivar is a classier shrub. It’s the perfect desk plant because of its compact growth. The stems are reddish-brown maroon with yellow flowers. The veins of these leaves are more of a creamy white.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘ivo’: The ‘ivo’ has dark green leaves with pronounced veins. It blooms golden flowers too.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘red apollo’: The ‘red apollo’ is the most unique of the above cultivars. Its foliage sports reddish brown as a base color with white and yellow accents. It, unfortunately, rarely blossoms.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘white wash’: It has very light green leaves, making it look like a white cast. In addition, its veins are a jade-green color.
  • Aphelandra squarrosa ‘snow white’: This cultivar’s name was inspired by the tiny spots or mottles near the large veins, making it look like it’s covered with snow. This zebra houseplant blooms with yellow and gold flowers like the other shrubs.

Aphelandra Squarrosa vs. Calathea Zebrina

The aphelandra squarrosa and calathea zebrina share the same common name; the zebra plant. This has confused beginner gardeners. This section will quickly touch on the significant differences between these houseplants.

The calathea zebrina is a type of Calathea. The calathea zebrina grows vibrant, green foliage with white stripes that resemble the markings found on a zebra. The calathea zebrina produces much more significant growth.

The calathea zebrina’s foliage is a lighter green, and the stripes are typically wider than those appearing on the aphelandra squarrosa’s leaves. Another critical difference between the two houseplants is that the calathea zebrina does not usually flower indoors.

Aphelandra Squarrosa vs. Haworthiopsis

The aphelandra squarrosa and haworthiopsis are two completely different houseplants with the same common name. Here, we will summarize the differences between each houseplant.

The haworthiopsis is a succulent native to South Africa. The haworthiopisis is similar to other succulents like aloe vera. It grows thick, light green leaves with a waxy texture.

Additionally, the haworthiopisis does not have white veins on its leaves. However, it has horizontal white stripes that appear across its foliage.

How Big Does It Get?

This cultivar will grow up to 1 to 2 feet (30.5 – 61cm) tall and 1 to 5 feet (30.5 – 152cm) wide. Its mature size will greatly depend on the environment it’s placed in and the care you give it.

How Fast Does It Grow?

The zebra plant isn’t a fast-growing houseplant and usually takes up to five years to reach its mature size. Typically, it will sprout approximately 3 to 6 inches (7.6 – 15.2cm) of growth a year.

How Long Does It Live?

Its ultimate lifespan will vary greatly depending on the care it receives. The average lifespan is anywhere between 2 to 10 years.

Is It Toxic to Cats, Dogs, and Humans?

The aphelandra squarrosa is non-toxic to pets, and people. Like the Boston fern, you can grow this plant anywhere in your home without worrying about poisoning your pets.

Zebra Plant Care

This houseplant is sensitive to environmental changes, which could make caring for it slightly tricky. Let’s look at the best ways to manage this houseplant and how you can create the perfect environment.

How Often to Water It

This cultivar enjoys moist soil; therefore, you must water your shrub once a week during the spring and summertime. You will also need to water it once the top 25 percent of the soil is dry.

In the cooler months, you can take it easier on the watering. Ideally, you should water your plant once every two weeks during winter and autumn.

It’s imperative that you set up an optimal watering schedule as this plant is sensitive to improper watering. If it is over- or underwatered, you’ll notice its lush foliage begin to die.


Aphelandra squarrosa does not like to be grown in soggy or overly moist environments. This means that drainage is pretty essential when it comes to caring for it. There are two significant ways to ensure all excess moisture drains out; using a suitable soil and pot.

The best potting mixture type must be airy, lightweight, and quick-draining. You can also add perlite or vermiculite to enhance further the potting soil’s ability to drain water. We’ll touch on the ground in more depth later on.

The type of pot you use must also be taken into consideration. It should always have a few holes at the bottom of it. These drainage holes allow the water to drain out instead of forming a puddle around the roots.

When and How to Prune It

Your houseplant may need a good trimming now and then. It’s best to prune it during spring or after it bloomed.

You’ll need to trim off any dead, unhealthy, or weak growth. Pruning is also an excellent way to maintain your houseplant’s size and keep it looking healthy. You’ll also need to deadhead its flowers as they begin to die.

Follow the instructions listed below:

  1. Disinfect a pair of pruners or scissors with rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution.
  2. Cut off the foliage at the base of the mother houseplant.
  3. To remove the flowers, you can snip them off at the foot of the stem. You should make sure to remove the entire spike too.
  4. You can place it back in its original position and keep some healthy cuttings propagating later.

Top tip: To encourage bushier growth, you should cut off the lower-level leaves at the base of the plant.

When and How to Repot It

The benefit of having this lovely houseplant is that you do not need to repot it often. The zebra plant only requires to be transplanted once every 2 to 3 years during the springtime.

Before removing the shrub from the old pot, it’s recommended that you trim the cultivar if it is enormous. Now, let’s discuss the steps to repot the houseparent successfully.

  1. Fill a new pot with a damp potting mixture.
  2. Lift the houseplant out of its current container and trim any unhealthy roots.
  3. Place it in its new pot at the same depth it was growing. It’s also important to fully cover its roots.
  4. Water it well and place it under bright sunshine.

Environmental Factors

Light Requirements

This attention-grabbing shrub needs bright and indirect light. It will thrive when placed under filtered sunlight for 4 to 6 hours a day during its active growing seasons.

You should not expose it to direct light as this may damage its foliage. The harsh sun rays during the summertime can burn the leaves, so make sure to position the houseplant under indirect sunshine.

Best Soil

The aphelandra squarrosa thrives in soil that drains well and is slightly moisture retentive. A neutral to acidic soil pH is perfect; it works best when pH levels are between 5.6 and 6.0.

You can use a succulent potting mixture or an African violet mix. You may want to add sand to your mixture to ensure it drains well.

If you decide to create your own potting mixture, we recommend mixing 1 part coarse sand, 1 part perlite, and 1 part potting soil. Using soil containing a large amount of peat moss is also great.


If your goal is to encourage rapid growth, you’ll need to feed your houseplant. The more it develops, the more nutrients it’ll need.

You should feed it once every two weeks during its active growing seasons. The best type of fertilizer is one that is water-soluble, well-balanced, and liquid. The optimal ratio is 10-10-10.

It doesn’t need to be fed during winter or autumn; doing so may lead to a fertilizer overdose. This means that too many salts will build up in the potting mixture.

Pot Size and Type

The optimal type of pot is plastic. This will not only allow moisture to drain out, but it won’t dry out the soil too quickly.

The ideal pot is roughly 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm) more comprehensive than the plant’s rootball. It doesn’t need much room, as a large container will cause the plant to become waterlogged.

Temperature Range

The aphelandra squarrosa is native to warm climates. The ideal temperature range is between 60 to 75 ºF (15 – 23 ºC).

The houseplant doesn’t like cool temperatures and mustn’t be left in an area that dips below 50ºF (10ºC).

Humidity Level

This plant is native to humid rainforests. Therefore, it must be grown in a moist environment. The shrub requires a relative humidity level between 60 to 70 percent.

You can increase the humidity surrounding the plant by keeping the soil moist, misting its foliage, and placing it amongst other houseplants.

Another solution commonly used to increase the moisture in the air is to create a humidity tray. You can place pebbles and lukewarm water in a shallow tray. Next, you will place your plant on top of the rocks and ensure it isn’t touching the water.

Can It Live Outdoors?

The aphelandra squarrosacan can be grown in your garden too. It’ll flourish in USDA hardiness zones of 10 to 11. The primary concern is the temperature, as the plant should be brought indoors in winter. You’ll also need to ensure it receives the right amount of light, moisture, and nutrients.

The aphelandra squarrosa must still be placed under filtered sunshine; during the summer, it may even need to be located under partial shade. You will still need to water it well and spritz its foliage regularly. This is necessary to create a moist and humid environment.

Furthermore, the aphelandra squarrosa will still require enough nutrients to produce healthy growth and flowers. So, you will have to continue fertilizing it even when it is grown in your garden.


The aphelandra squarrosa sprouts eye-catching blooms. It will show off golden bracts atop 4-inch (10cm) long stalks/spikes. The bright, yellow flowers will then emerge from these bracts.

It is pretty tricky to get this houseplant to bloom. However, we’ll fill you in on when it blooms, how long these flowers last, and most importantly, how to make them bloom.

When and How Often Does It Bloom?

It will typically bloom during late summer or early fall. The zebra plant will usually flower once a year; however, you can make it bloom twice a year with some extra effort.

How Long Do the Blooms Last?

Typically, a flower will survive for up to 3 to 5 days. The houseplant’s bracts will live for around six weeks.

Once the flowers and bracts begin to die, it is best to deadhead the houseplant.

How to Make It Bloom

It is challenging to encourage blooms, so you must create the perfect environment for this plant. This means it must be fed frequently, watered properly, receive plenty of sunshine, and grow at the right temperature.

The aphelandra squarrosa must be fertilized during the spring and summertime if you wish to witness its fantastic blooms. Additionally, it requires moist soil and adequate humidity levels, so you’ll need to water it to maintain a wet potting mixture and mist the foliage several times a week.

This houseplant thrives in warm environments. This means it should bask under plenty of sunlight for at least 12 weeks before it will flower. It must also be placed in a warm area, so it doesn’t have to withstand any cool temperatures.

How to Grow It

You can expand your collection of zebra plants by propagating the plant or planting its seeds. The best time to carry out these methods is during the springtime as the houseplant is actively growing.

Zebra Plant Propagation

This houseplant can be propagated in both soil and water. We will guide you through the array of methods so that you can choose the easiest option for you.

Before you dive straight into propagation, you must sterilize all of your tools.

How to Propagate It in Soil

You’ll be able to propagate the aphelandra squarrosa by planting a stem cutting, leaf cutting, or pup. All three of these processes are relatively simple, and you can check out how to successfully carry them out below.

Propagation from Stem Cutting

A new houseplant will emerge once you plant a healthy stem in fresh potting soil. We’ll explain the process in more detail below.

  1. Snip off a 3-inch (7.6cm) long stem cutting and dip the cut end in the rooting hormone.
  2. Fill a new pot with damp peat moss, then pot the cutting in the center of the container.
  3. You will need to place the pot on a heating mat to maintain a temperature of around 70ºF (21ºC).
  4. The cutting must be watered frequently and positioned under indirect sunshine.
  5. After four weeks, the cutting will produce new roots. You can remove the heating mat and care for it like a mature plant.
  6. Once the stem sprouts new leaves, it can be transplanted into a larger pot (if necessary).
Propagation from Leaf in Soil

A single leaf can be planted in quick-draining soil; you will see new growth emerge after a few weeks.

Follow the step-by-step guide below:

  1. Cut off a leaf just below the leaf node.
  2. Prepare a new pot with damp peat-based soil and plant the leaf tip in the potting mixture.
  3. You must keep the soil moist and place the leaflet under bright light.
  4. After 4 to 6 weeks, the leaf-cutting will root, and then you can treat it like an average zebra plant.
  5. You should transplant it into a larger pot when it produces 2 to 3 new leaves.
Pup Propagation

A pup or offshoot is like a miniature aphelandra squarrosa. They can be found at the base of the mother plant. You must place it in its pot to form a mature zebra houseplant.

Take a look at the steps we’ve listed here:

  1. Pull a pup or cut it off by the mother plant’s base. It should be at least 2 to 3 inches (5 – 7.6cm) long.
  2. Plant the pup in a pot filled with moist, peat-based soil.
  3. The soil should be kept moist until new growth emerges. Additionally, the offshoot must be located under bright, indirect sunlight.
  4. In a month, the pup will establish its roots and begin to sprout new growth.
  5. You’ll need to transplant the offshoot when it becomes too large for its current pot.

How to Propagate It in Water

The stem cutting and leaflet can also be propagated in water too. Remember that the water must be replaced before it becomes murky or cloudy.

Stem Cutting in Water

To successfully root a cutting in water, the stem must be healthy and have a few leaves attached. Once it has grown healthy roots, you can repot it in soil.

Take a look at the guide below:

  1. Snip off a 3 to 4-inch (7.6 – 10cm) long stem with a few leaves attached.
  2. Cover the cut area with the rooting hormone.
  3. Fill a glass or jar with room temperature water, and place the cutting inside.
  4. The cutting must then be located under indirect sunshine.
  5. In approximately 3 to 4 weeks, the cutting will produce new root growth.
  6. Once it has sprouted a healthy amount of roots, you can plant it in fresh soil.
Propagation from Leaf in Water

A single leaf can be propagated in water as well. You’ll need to snip off a leaflet and place it in clean water before transplanting it into a pot of soil.

Check out the guide here:

  1. Use a sharp pair of scissors and cut off a healthy leaf.
  2. Fill a small shot glass with room temperature water and put the leaflet inside.
  3. It should soak in plenty of bright light, and the water must be replaced weekly.
  4. After 2 to 4 weeks, the leaf will grow new roots. It can then be repotted in some fresh soil.

How to Plant the Seeds

You can grow a zebra plant from a single seed during springtime. You can purchase a pack of seeds from your local nursery.

Follow the steps listed here:

  1. Place some damp peat moss into a shallow tray.
  2. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the potting mixture and mist them lightly.
  3. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and place the seeds in a sunny area.
  4. In 4 to 8 weeks, new growth will emerge, and you can remove the plastic wrap.
  5. When the seedlings become large enough, you can repot them in their containers.

Common Diseases

When the plant’s appearance changes dramatically, it may die due to improper care. We’ll explain some of the top issues that your plant may be facing. Once you’ve identified the cause of the problem, then you’ll need to revive the plant.

In this section, we’ll not only identify common health problems but also explain how you can rectify the issue.

Brown Tips

The foliage will develop brown and crispy tips when the houseplant is grown in a dry environment or watered improperly.

The best way to create a moist environment is by misting the foliage with lukewarm water, or you can locate the houseplant near an electric humidifier.

The soil should be evenly moist, and the houseplant will begin to die when it’s too dry or too soggy. It must be watered deeply if the soil is arid; however, if it’s too moist, allow the topsoil to dry out before watering it again.

Yellowing Leaves

This is an indication that your houseplant is being overwatered and that the soil is not drying quickly enough.

Overwatering will rob the roots of oxygen and they will begin to rot.

To address this issue, remove the houseplant from its pot, gently shake off the soil from the roots and snip away any rotten sections. Replant the root ball into a well-draining pot filled with fresh soil.

Curling Leaves

Wilting and curly leaves are caused by a lack of water, dry air, and too much sunlight.

When the potting mixture dries out, you need to water it thoroughly. Additionally, you will need to tweak your watering schedule to prevent this issue from occurring again in the future.

This houseplant thrives in tropical regions, so it loves a humid environment. The easiest way to increase the humidity levels surrounding it is by spritzing the leaves with room temperature water.

The plant’s leaves are sensitive to the harsh afternoon sun, and this issue is expected during the summertime. You only need to position it under filtered sunshine or partial shade.

Brown Leaves

The leaves may become marked with dark brown spots or splotches if the zebra plant receives too much sunshine or if its environment is dry.

You must keep an eye on your plant if you live in a hot region. The sun may be too intense for your houseplant during the summertime. It will need to be placed under indirect sunshine and partial shade in the afternoon.

It is easy to create a moist environment. You can water it more often or place the pot plant on a humidity tray.

Drooping Leaves

The foliage may droop or become limp when the plant is placed under direct sunshine or if its environment isn’t humid.

The houseplant’s foliage will scorch if it receives full sunlight. This means you must find a bright home for the plant where it’ll sit under filtered sunshine.

When the air in your household is too dry, group the zebra plant amongst other houseplants or place a bowl of lukewarm water next to it.

Leaf Fall

If your houseplant is experiencing leaf fall, it may be due to dry soil or too much cold air. The other issue may be an over exposure to sunlight.

If this issue is affecting your houseplant, consider moving it to an area with filtered as opposed to direct light. Check that it is not being impacted by a cold draft or air conditioning.

If the soil is dry beneath the top quarter then under-watering may be the issue. The plant should be watered once a week in the spring and summer, and once every two weeks in the winter. Ensure you let the top 25% of the soil dry before watering it again.

Ending Off

This gorgeous shrub is a conversation starter. Once you have nailed down those pesky care requirements, you’ll watch it flourish and flower year-round.

It’ll continue to produce healthy growth if you provide adequate sunlight, water, and humidity. The blooms are worth the extra effort you put into creating the best environment for this houseplant.

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