<i>Whitfieldia elongata</i> White Candles

I Love This Plant

Whitfieldia elongata White Candles

March 12, 2004
Photo by: Robert Bowden

We gardeners are always on the lookout for the next great plant. White candles (Whitfieldia elongata) may be just that. It is a perfect flowering shrub: broad-leaved evergreen foliage and plentiful white-flower spikes, 8 inches tall, blooming almost continuously. Sure, it's tender, best as an outdoor shrub for Zones 9+ or as an evergreen conservatory plant or houseplant in cooler climates. Or use it in mixed flower containers for spring-fall performance in Zones 5-8.

Native to the lowland semievergreen tropical forest of Ethiopia, white candles can reach 4 feet tall, and the rough-surfaced dark green leaves grow 4 to 5 inches long. It thrives in sandy soils that are well-drained but have groundwater not far below the surface. Provide dappled shade and slightly acidic soil. Keep soil moist, and fertilize lightly every six to eight weeks. For repeated blooming, remove spent flowers. There are no known pests or diseases.

In warmer climates, white candles performs well in shady flower borders -- its polar-white flower spikes offer a nice contrast. As the central focus in a flowerpot (kept in shade), the flower form and brightness, along with leaf texture and color, really draw the eye, too. To grow as a houseplant, give white candles bright but filtered light. Ideal temperature is 50 degrees. Watch for spider mites indoors. And turn the plant occasionally to maintain its shape.

I won't be surprised to see white candles as the plant of choice for many shady gardens in the seasons ahead. Right now, though, it is not that easy to find.

Try these sources: Logee's Greenhouses, logees.com; Top Tropicals, toptropicals.com