Purple Waffle Plant: Lively And Lush Air Cleaner

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The purple waffle plant stands out from other houseplants due to its unique leaves. Puckered and rippling, they develop in a way to increase the surface area over each leaf surface. The underside of each leaf is a vibrant purple color. As a shaded groundcover plant, it can make for a multicolored mat of dense foliage.

That increased surface area has another benefit. Hemigraphis alternata is known to be an air-cleanser. It removes volatile organic compounds from the air surrounding it. What a great reason to consider growing it indoors as well!

Today we’ll be exploring this lush green and purple jungle-dweller. It doesn’t take much effort to provide these lovely plants with everything they need!

Overview

Purple waffle plant
In tropical regions, the purple waffle plant can be a ground cover. Source: Joel Abroad
Scientific Name: Hemigraphis alternata
Common Name(s):Purple waffle plant, red ivy, cemetery plant, metal leaf
Family:Acanthaceae
Height & Spread:6-8″ tall, 12-24″ wide (or long if draped in hanging pot)
Sun:Bright, but indirect lighting, shaded from direct sun
Soil:Rich, humus-filled, well-draining
Water:Keep consistently moist at all times, don’t over-water
Pests/Diseases:Occasional whiteflies/scale. Root rot & mildews possible.

All About Purple Waffle Plant

Herbaceous and perennial in its natural jungle locale, purple waffle grows to 6″ in height. It forms long stems that can take root or cascade over the sides of hanging pots. Originating in Java, it has become popular internationally as a houseplant.

In zones 10-11, it can be grown as an understory plant or ground cover in shady areas. It’s become naturalized in the Pacific islands, as well as in parts of northern Queensland. The southernmost tip of Florida can also grow it outdoors with ease.

For the rest of us, we keep our purple waffles indoors where we can get the most of their air cleaning capabilities. Compounds such as benzene, octane, and toluene are absorbed from the air, making it safer for us. And who doesn’t want better air?

Speaking of air: this plant is into warm jungle air, but it’s not a fan of the ocean. If you live near the ocean, try to keep it indoors and away from salt-laden air, as it’s sensitive to the salt.

As a hanging plant, this one shines. Its long stems will grow to drape beautifully down the sides of your pot. But you don’t have to relegate it to only being hung up. It can look incredible swaying down a bookshelf or as a centerpiece on a table. Really, they’re quite versatile indoors.

Did I mention that it flowers? The flowers tend to be tubular in shape and are a bright white color. They’re fairly small and delicate, but they’re pretty if infrequent!

Other names for this plant include red ivy, cemetery plant, or metal-leaf. It also has the synonym of Hemigraphis colorata.

Types

Other waffle plant cultivars
Two waffle plant cultivars. Belgian Waffle on the left, Snow White on the right.

There’s more than one cultivar of Hemigraphis alternata available out there. While the main purple waffle is widely available, these other cultivars are more rare. Often, they’re only grown and sold by the company who developed and patented them.

The base plant has those green-topped, purple-bottomed leaves. Reddish-purple stems extend outward from the center of the plant.

In a variety such as ‘Belgian Waffle’, the green upper part of the leaves is edged with a cream color. That edging may extend partway into the leaf’s center, creating a mottled pattern. Hints of purple peer out from beneath the leaves.

‘Snow White’, by contrast, is a variety which is dappled with vivid white and pink over the upper surfaces. Its light magenta-purple undersides and green tops create a stunning visual effect.

These brighter variations on the theme can be paired with the original. This makes for an amazing array in a large planter, for instance. As they grow and intertwine, different spots of color will be revealed.

Care

So what are the best conditions for your waffle plants, no matter the cultivar? Let’s explore that!

Light & Temperature

Hemigraphis alternara aka colorata
Hemigraphis alternara also has the synonym Hemigraphis colorata. Source: quinn.anya

These lovely tropicals like lots of light… but not direct sunlight.

Providing lots of bright, indirect lighting will keep their colors vibrant. They’ll want at least six hours of light per day. But be careful to watch the color of your plants. If they start to look washed out, they may be receiving too much light.

As far as temperature is concerned, tropical conditions are perfect. Keep the thermometer set between 65-80 indoors, and your plant will be satisfied. Avoid placing it in a drafty location where it can get too cold or hot.

These plants are frost-sensitive. If you’re growing yours outdoors, make sure it’s brought indoors or protected from cold.

Water & Humidity

Red ivy plants like to be consistently moist. Do you know what a kitchen sponge feels like when it’s been wrung out? That’s a good level of moisture to maintain.

Having said that, they also don’t like to be in soggy conditions. Avoid standing water, whether in the pot or a saucer below it. Too much water may make its roots vulnerable to root rot.

Occasional misting of your plant in the morning is a good choice. Alternately, place a pebble tray underneath your plant to raise the humidity. As a tropical plant, lots of humidity is preferred.

Soil

Aim for a pH range from 6.1-6.5 for this plant, which is on the acidic end of neutral. You can go down to 5.8 on the acidic side, but try to not go above 6.9 on the alkaline end. A good pH test kit will help you gauge your soil’s status.

Preferred soil for this plant is humus-rich, crammed with lots of organic material. It should be rich and remain moist, but drain off excess liquid well. A slightly peaty soil blend can work too. Avoid hard clay soils, as the roots have difficult in those.

Fertilizer

Hemigraphis alternara in jungle environment
Shiny waffle plant leaves in their natural environment. Source: Reinaldo Aguilar

Fertilization should occur during the spring and summer. Skip it in the fall and winter months when the plant is growing less rapidly.

Adding compost around the base of your plant can replace fertilizing. This mimics the rich soil of their jungle home, which is filled with decaying leaves.

If you don’t have compost at hand, you can use a slow-release granular fertilizer or diluted liquid.

Slow-release fertilizers should be fairly low-potency, around a 5-5-5 range. If you go higher on any nutrient, make it nitrogen to spur growth. Apply these per the manufacturer’s directions.

Liquid fertilizers should be diluted and very light. Aim for a 5-3-3 or 5-4-3 level, and fertilize no more than once per month. If you dilute it by half again, you can fertilize every two weeks to ensure consistent feeding.

Avoid overfertilizing. If your plant is becoming spindly and has lots of thin stems with little growth, you may be feeding too heavily.

Propagation

Waffle plant’s a fairly fast grower. It will readily self-propagate by rooting at stem nodes. But if you’d like to start some yourself, stem cuttings or air layering are your best bets.

For stem cuttings, examine a healthy stem and find the nodes along the stem. You will want to take your cutting just below one of those nodes, as the node is where it will root from. Tuck the node end into a pot of your humus-rich soil and keep it moist.

Air layering for this plant can be as simple as finding a stem node and burying it in your potting soil. It will develop roots over time. Once it has, cut it free from its parent plant and move to a new pot.

Pruning

Heightwise, there is little need to prune this plant. It tends to grow no larger than about 6″ tall, perhaps as high as 8″.

But stems can become greatly elongated. While this looks good in a hanging pot, you may want to keep them at a particular length for visual appeal. If so, use a sterile pair of pruning shears to snip off excess. You can always use the excess for starting new cuttings!

To encourage bushier growth, you can pinch off stem tips just above a leaf or stem node. This will slow the stem’s growth and redirect the plant to growing leaves.

Underside of waffle plant leaves
The underside of waffle plant leaves are reddish-purple to dark purple. Source: Reinaldo Aguilar

Problems

Most of the difficulties with waffle plants are easy to fix. Let’s discuss those now!

Growing Problems & Diseases

The primary cause of problems is overwatering. If your plant is sitting in a saucer, make sure you empty out any drained water. Never leave your plant in standing water. Over-wet soil provides a perfect home for pythium and other root rot fungi.

Your plant also can’t tolerate dry conditions. Remember, these are jungle-dwellers, used to moist soil and occasional humidity. Ensure your soil is always as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Misting your plant in the morning is a good way to increase humidity. It also likes being placed on top of a pebble tray for added humidity, but be sure the base of the pot isn’t underwater.

Too much fertilizer can cause sudden leggy growth instead of the plant bushing out. If your plant starts a growth spurt, skip the next fertilizing session. Reduce your future fertilizing dose by half, or just slow the frequency.

If you do mist your plants, be sure to do it early in the day so the plant’s leaves can dry by nightfall. While it’s uncommon, powdery mildew or downy mildew can appear on your plant if its leaves are wet for too long.

Those of us who live near a beach should keep these plants indoors. While it might like the temperatures and humidity outside, salty air can cause problems for your plant.

Pests

Healthy purple waffles are able to resist most pests. On rare occasion, whiteflies or scale insects may become an issue. If these appear, you may be able to blast them loose with a hard spray of water. If not, applying horticultural oil or an insecticidal soap can dislodge them. Trim severely damaged leaves or stems to remove them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How would I know when the soil has sufficient moisture when growing waffle plant?

A: Press your finger lightly into the soil. Does it feel about as moist as a wrung-out sponge? If so, you’ve got the right water level. If it’s drier than that, it’s time to water. If it feels too damp, you’re likely overwatering.

Q: When is the best time to propagate the purple waffle plant?

A: Propagation is best done in the spring and summer months when the plant is actively growing. Fall and winter is when your plant is resting and preparing for the next year’s growth.

Q. How often should I fertilize waffle plants?

A: If you’re adding a layer of compost over your soil, you may not need to. Otherwise, it depends on the type of fertilizer you’re using. Take a look at the “fertilizing” section above for more detail!


Whether you call it metal-leaf or purple waffle plant, you will love this houseplant. It definitely provides lots of color and thrives indoors. Just keep it moist, and you’ll be keeping it happy! Consider interplanting yours with a Chinese evergreen plant for a diverse planting.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

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