Both Caladium and Syngonium plants are easy to grow and maintain, so they’re very popular among beginner plant enthusiasts.
What the majority of people don’t know is how to differentiate between the two. These plants might seem identical at first, but there are some important differences.
This article provides you with a guide on how to recognize these plants to figure out which one is living in your home rent-free.
Caladiums are grown from a tuber and are sensitive to ecological factors. On the other hand, syngoniums are grown from adventitious roots and are more tolerable to their surroundings. Compared to syngoniums, caladiums can be more vibrant in color and have several distinctive leaf shapes.
Both Caladium and Syngonium belong to the Araceae family. Given the fact that they’re cousins, it’s no surprise that they look very similar.
Caladiums (Latin Caladium bicolor) are commonly known as the heart of Jesus, angel wings, and elephant ear.
Syngonium (Latin Syngonium podophyllum) synonyms are arrowhead vines, goose’s foot, and five fingers.
Why Does Identification Matter?
Some people may say that it’s not important to know what plant you have, but I say otherwise.
You have to know which plant you have how to care for it. Also, gardeners blessed by botanical curiosity like to know exactly which species (and varieties) of plants they have.
I like to keep samples of my plants in herbariums, with their names in Latin in the description.
Another thing is the price. While doing my research, I realized that caladium bulbs tend to be a bit more expensive than Syngonium seedlings, due to these bulbs being harder to keep healthy.
Since these plants get mixed often, it’s important to know what you’re paying for.
Caladium vs Syngonium: Differences
When it comes to very similar plants like these, it’s crucial to spot their differences.
Even though some details might not seem that important, trust me – they are! To grow a healthy little plant, you need to learn as much as you can about it.
Syngonium and caladiums originate from the tropical and subtropical rain forests of Central and South America, so humid environments with well-drained soils are especially good for them.
Since caladiums are grown from a tuber or a bulb, they’re more sensitive to low temperatures.
They require a temperature of at least 70° F (21° C) for tubers to start growing, while Syngonium shoots can sprout at a bit lower temperature.
Every plant has different needs. For it to grow healthy, certain requirements must be met.
I will emphasize the importance of soil, water, and exposure to sunlight, because you, the gardener, can directly impact these factors.
Soil and Water
Caladium doesn’t require much attention. It’s important to keep the soil moist at all times because it’s a tuber plant.
Make sure you don’t overwater the soil and make it soggy. Larger plants can be watered 3 or more times a week, depending on your area.
In terms of watering your syngonium, it’s good to keep the soil moist. Watering the plant 2-3 times a week should do the trick.
If you live in a dry area, I recommend putting pebbles soaked in the water underneath the pot.
This way, the water will slowly evaporate into the soil. However, Syngonium is a lot more insensitive to drought than caladiums.
Browning on the edges, usually on some bigger leaves, is a common sign of water deficit.
Note that both caladium and Syngonium plants grown in small containers require more water, as they don’t have enough soil to keep the moisture.
They share almost the same soil preferences. Caladiums like well-drained and slightly acidic soil.
I recommend a mixture of compost and perlite in the ratio of 80:20. You can throw in some orchid bark too for the drainage!
Caladiums are sensitive to light exposure. They can’t stand direct sunlight, and they will show it by getting brown patches on their leaves.
Their leaves are almost translucent, usually thinner than Syngonium leaves, so it’s necessary to take proper care of them.
Keep them in shades and indirect sunlight (away from windows). Syngonium is very adaptable when it comes to light exposure.
They don’t require much sunlight and can be grown in shades, which is ideal for indoor gardening.
However, if you intend to keep it in a place with low amounts of light, then I recommend getting a variety that has more green leaves, like Mini Allusion. The greener they are, the higher concentration of sunlight absorption is.
Varieties such as Glo-Glo have a lot of white on their leaves, so they can be placed onto brighter indirect light. Never expose them to direct sunlight as it can scorch their thin leaves.
Foliage Shapes, Colors, and Varieties
Caladium plants produce leaves from spring to fall and rest throughout the winter.
This process shouldn’t be confused with wilting, because this is a natural event that many tuber plants undergo.
Don’t worry, the leaves will grow anew in the spring! They pack a specter of very bold colors.
On the other hand, Syngonium has softer colors, usually displayed in a gradient.
According to research, caladium leaves have the highest level of diversity compared to other popular aroids, such as alocasia, philodendron, and even Syngonium. (Source)
They usually come in one of three types: fancy, strap, and lance.
Fancy leaves are heart-shaped with three main veins arranged in an inverted Y shape.
These varieties are easily recognizable, and the size of leaves can go up to 30 inches (76 cm). That’s why these caladiums are usually planted by oneself.
I have Red Flash variety in my living room and it’s one of the most popular among all caladium varieties.
Its intense red veins are contrasted by dark-green edges on 15 (38 cm) long leaves.
Strap leaves are narrow, spear-shaped, and have only one main vein. The petiole is attached near the edge of the leaf.
The foliage is a lot smaller, so you can plant multiple plants together and play with colors.
My favorite variety is Florida Fantasy. The leaves are vibrant in colors with a white background, green edges, and striking violet veins.
Lance leaves come in a lanceolate shape, something between heart and strap shape. They tend to be 8 inches (20 cm) long.
The most famous representative is the Lance Whorton variety that has crimson-red veins, green edges, and a splash of white dots. This painter’s palette on a leaf can be grown individually or in batches.
Syngonium leaves are milder in color and don’t come in so many variations as caladiums.
Since they don’t rest during the winter, you can expect to see these beautiful leaves during the entire year.
Juvenile foliage is more arrow-shaped, while adult plants have a five-lobed shape, hence the name five fingers.
This shape-shifting activity makes up for the dullness of colors, and it’s always interesting to watch the transitioning process.
Younger leaves can be 3-7 inches (7.5-17.5 cm) long and mature ones can be almost 9 inches (19 cm) long.
The center leaflet is surrounded by 3 to 11 elliptic leaflets, depending on the maturity of the plant.
They are all connected to the stem via petioles that can be almost 15 inches (38 cm long).
My favorite varieties are Pink Splash Allusion that has green leaves with pink splashes, and tiny Glo-Glo syngoniums that have white veins on a green background.
Caladiums spring from underground tubers. A tuber is a modification of the plant’s stem that’s more suitable for storing energy in the form of proteins.
This organ allows the plant to rest during colder days and reemerge when the temperatures are suitable for growth. That’s why the plant can mature in full size in one season!
Syngonium is an evergreen vine plant. Unlike caladium, syngonium grows from juvenile, adventitious roots.
Young stems are greenish-blue, hairless, and smooth while mature stems tend to harden and turn brown.
Height: Sleeper vs Climber
For me, this is the biggest difference between caladiums and Syngonium. Caladiums don’t grow that high, even though some cultivars can reach 20 inches (50 cm) in height.
They usually grow about 14 inches (35 cm) and then spread in width. Syngonium grows in vines, which means they like to climb.
If you keep the plant healthy for long enough, it will climb any pole you set next to it.
Only the sky’s the limit! Some people use plastic ladders or poles for the vines, but I prefer sphagnum moss poles with bamboo cores.
They’re recyclable and eco-friendly substitutions that don’t take up much space.
Caladium’s resting period begins in the fall. The leaves fall off and you’re only left with the tuber.
That’s the perfect time to divide mature tuber into sections, with at least one bulb on each section.
Clean them and keep them in sawdust or sand storage at temperatures above 55° F (13° C).
Those tubers are now ready to be planted in the next growing seasons so you have even more Caladium plants!
Syngoniums are even easier to propagate. I like to do it this way: find a new growth shoot with one or two leaves on it.
A couple of inches below the leaves should be a little bump, called nodes. Cutting an inch below the nodes is fine.
Place your new plant in a compost mix pot and keep it warm. Hurray, you now have at least two Syngonium plants!
Similarities between Caladium and Syngonium
Despite their differences, caladium and syngonium have a lot more traits in common.
They both originate from tropical forests, so they prefer humid areas. I like to keep their pots next to each other because they require the same amount of light.
When it comes to watering, I like to water mature plants together at the same time. Juvenile ones get a bit of special treatment.
Coming from the same Araceae family, they share common pests and diseases, meaning they share the same cures too!
Lastly, they both count as mono-flowering plants. Each petiole can produce only one flower, but the majority of modern varieties don’t even produce any flowers.
Even if they do, experienced gardeners tend to cut them off immediately. This way, most of the energy and nutrients go straight into the leaves.
Caladium and syngonium plants are evergreens that decorate your home with colorful leaves. I always recommend them to beginner and master gardeners alike.
It’s important to learn their differences, even though they seem very similar at first glance.
Caladiums are more sensitive to sunlight exposure, water, and temperature, while Syngonium is more forgiving.
This sensitivity is a result of the caladium plant growing from a tuber. Syngonium grows from a root and likes to spread in a form of vines – a moss pole is highly recommended to ensure it climbs healthily.
Despite the differences, they still come from the same family of arid plants. I like to keep them together in the same room in indirect sunlight. This way, they both get enough attention and admiration that they wholeheartedly deserve!
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