|Caladiums were first
described as Caladium bicolor from specimens
collected in 1773 from the Madiera River in
Western Brazil. The original plants had plain
green leaves with randomly distributed red and
white spots. During the period 1857 – 1858 two
Frenchmen, Petit and Baraquin, explored the
Amazon and collected at least 4 additional
« Picture of Caladiums from the rainforest in Costa Rica
Commercial caladiums come in two leaf shapes. A larger heart shaped leaf group believed to have arisen from hybrids with Caladium bicolor are called “Fancy Leaved Caladiums”. The other type, a more lance shape believed to be hybrids that have Caladium picturatum blood in them, are called “Strap or Lance Leaved Caladiums”. Regardless of origin, caladiums have leaves that are beautifully marked in many colors and patterns, born on slender stems. Hybrids vary in every character you can think of resulting in over 2000 named varieties over the past 150 years.
first to breed caladiums were two Frenchmen Louis Van Houtte
and Alfred Blue in the 1860’s. Though most of their hybrids
have been lost to time, two of their hybrids ‘Triomphe de
l’Exposition’ and ‘Candidum’ remain in commerce today. In
1893 a German hybridizer named Adolph Leitze, at the time
living in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, exhibited a collection of
his hybrids at the World Fair in Chicago, IL and thereby
introduced caladiums to the United States. In 1910 the
Henry Nehrling of Gotha and Theodore L. Mead
of Oviedo began breeding caladiums in Florida. Nehrling is
credited with the commercially available varieties ‘Mrs. W.
B. Halderman’, ‘Arno Nehrling’, ‘John Peed’ and ‘Fannie
Munson’. Nehrling had an extensive prized garden of many
acres in Gotha, but, as can be read below, caladiums were
the garden favorite. Describing his garden he said: “In the
summer, during the rainy season, and in September and
October, the whole place is like a dreamland. At this time
about all the tropical plants are in full bloom. The
Fancy-leaved Caladiums, however, are the main attraction
from June to November. I usually plant 250,000 Caladiums
every year. My collection consists at present of about 1,500
named varieties. The beds which they occupy are 200 feet
long and 10 feet wide.
No pen and no pencil can give an idea of the indescribable beauty of these masses when at their best. The color ranges from the purest white to the deepest red, and from the most delicate transparent bluish and pinkish-white to the deepest translucent claret, scarlet and purple. Some of the colors sparkle and scintillate like precious stones or like the plumage of the humming birds. There is nothing in the whole floral kingdom that can compare with this brilliancy and beauty. All my flower and plant loving friends, even those indifferent to the beauties of Nature, are carried away when they come upon the Caladium masses. They only have an eye for these color effects, and seem to have lost all interest in the rest of my plant treasures.”
The next significant caladium hybridizer was F.M. Joyner of Tampa. Joyner was a postman that began his breeding efforts about 1937. Joyner’s hybrids were commercially grown by L.L. Holmes of Lake Placid, FL, by cooperative agreement. Joyner is credited with the available varieties ‘Aaron’, ‘Crimson Beauty’, ‘Kathleen’, ‘White Queen’ and ‘Postman Joyner’.
During the past 10 years, the University of Florida and Robert D. Hartman, Classic Caladium LLC, have established extensive breeding programs which have resulted in more than 25 new varieties being introduced during recent years. Both programs include commercial production trialing and horticultural evaluations. Because of extensive testing, recent introductions are proving reliable for both the industry and consumer.
Today virtually all commercial caladium production in the world takes place in central Florida, the majority of which is done in Lake Placid, FL. There are approximately 1,200 acres of total caladium production. The beauty of the caladium fields in the summer is so striking they have been compared to the tulip fields in Holland. Because of their beauty and in an effort to expand the public awareness of caladiums, in 1990 two caladium growers, Carolyn Phypers of Happiness Farms and Dot Bates of Bates Sons and Daughters, decided to work together to create a caladium festival which has taken place annually since. During the festival bus tours to the production fields are available so visitors can witness this incredible beauty first hand.
This article by Dr. Robert Hartman, President & CEO of Classic Caladiums