Skip to main content

Plant of the week: Stephania erecta

It’s a well-known meme about people feeling like, looking like, and turning into potatoes. So maybe this is why this once rare plant has suddenly boomed in popularity. The Stephania erecta looks like a sad little chubby potato that also sprouts adorable and beautiful stems and leaves. So perhaps we growers like the metaphor this plant suggests, and maybe we can resonate with its potato-ness. Either way, this adorable plant would make an excellent addition to your collection. Here’s how to care for it.

stephenia erecta plant
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is a Stephania erecta?

As we said before, the Stephania erecta is also sometimes called the potato plant because it looks like a chubby potato. This plant, originally from Thailand, grows beautiful foliage from a woody bulb called a caudex (the potato part). From the caudex sprouts multiple thin stems that grow shield-like leaves similar to a peperomia plant. It’s very magical looking and might remind some of a certain popular book series about wizards. The Stephania etecta averages 3 feet in height, but it takes a long time to mature, sometimes up to 20 years. The potato part of the plant, the caudex, can reach up to 7 inches wide, and the leaves range around 2 inches in diameter. One of the fun and attractive aspects of this plant is the effort required to get it to sprout. Often when you purchase the plant, it comes in its “potato” form and has no greenery.

The process to encourage it to sprout can be fun and rewarding and might even make for an excellent experiment for those with children.

How to sprout a Stephania erecta

You have to “activate” the Stephania erecta before it can sprout. This process is similar to what seeds and nuts do in the wild. Soak the caudex in warm water for 24 hours with the nodes (where the sprouts will grow) pointing up. Once it’s soaked, you can pot it up. Don’t bury the entire caudex into the soil. Instead, rest it on top of the soil with those nodes pointing up again. Fill soil around the sides, be careful not to cover the caudex, and give the plant some water.

Humidity is what tells the Stephania erecta that it’s time to sprout. Create a little germination habitat for your Stephania erecta with supplies you have at home, or you can purchase one online. Either way, plant the caudex in damp soil and place it in your germination dome. Keep the plant in a warm place that never goes below 77 degrees and preferably stays around 80 degrees. It will also need bright indirect light.

As you wait for it to sprout, keep the soil moist with a mister or by gently watering the soil. Within a month, you should begin to see a sprout starting, and you can relax knowing you have a happy little potato.

stephania erecta caudex
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Care tips for Stephania erecta

Now that it’s sprouted, you’ll want to adjust your care routine. But, after all that work, you don’t want to mess something up and have a sad, soggy potato, so here’s how to care for the Stephania erecta plant.

Water

It’s important to note that overwatering is the most common reason plants die, especially for the Stephania erecta. It’s very easy to overwater this plant because the caudex holds onto moisture. To avoid this, allow the soil to completely dry out before watering it again. To be safe, you might even want to wait a bit, even after the soil is dry. This plant will need even less water in the winter, so be careful and maybe purchase a water gauge to help you out.

Light

This part stays the same for when you’re trying to sprout the plant: It wants bright but indirect sunlight.

Food

It’s actually recommended not to feed this plant, but if you see signs of stress, you can provide it with a water-soluble fertilizer once or twice a year.

Temperature

Luckily the Stephania erecta likes the same temperatures that we tend to keep our houses at. Around 60 to 80 degrees is best for this plant, but you might lose leaves if it’s near a drafty door or a vent.

Humidity

While this plant hates being over-watered, it does prefer a bit more humidity than the average houseplant. It will thrive best at 60 percent or higher; any lower and you’ll start seeing crispy brown leaves.

Toxicity

The Stephania erecta is toxic to cats and dogs, so be sure to keep it out of their reach or avoid it altogether.

The Stephania erecta is pretty simple to care for once you’ve “activated” it and gotten it to sprout! This plant is quirky and adorable, and it’s bound to be unique to all your other plants.

Editors' Recommendations

Rebecca Wolken
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rebecca's has written for Bob Villa and a Cincinnati based remodeling company. When she's not writing about home remodeling…
Elephant ear plant care guide: What you need to know
How to grow the gorgeous elephant ear plant
Elephant ear plant leaves

Foliage plants are often used as a backdrop or filler, but there are some species that truly deserve to be the star of the show. While most showy foliage plants are colorful, some rely on size and shape to make an impression. Elephant ears are one such plant. These large, gorgeous plants will capture you and your guests’ attention, whether you grow a small indoor variety or let one of the larger plants take up space in your yard. To help you get started growing these beautiful plants, here is our elephant ear plant care guide.

Planting elephant ear plants
Elephant ear plants grow best in rich, well-draining soil. Amending the soil with compost before you begin can help improve poor soil if you aren’t sure that the soil in your garden is rich enough. Choose a planting site in full or partial sun. Elephant ears need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day, so avoid planting them too close to larger plants or structures that could cast shadows over them. Additionally, choose a space that is at least a few feet away from other plants. Elephant ears can grow quite large, so it’s important not to crowd them.

Read more
Now that it’s more common, here’s how to care for your sought-after Thai Constellation Monstera
How to grow one of these coveted houseplants
Thai Constellation Monstera

During the early pandemic days, the Thai Constellation Monstera was one of the most coveted cultivars of the humble Monstera deliciosa. Now, houseplant enthusiasts can more readily find this striking plant at lower costs, whether it's at a grocery store or a local nursery. Despite its gaining popularity, you might still have questions about the Thai Constellation Monstera plant. Not to worry — here's all that you need to know about what this plant is and how you can grow it in your lush indoor garden.

What is the Thai Constellation Monstera, and what makes it so special?
Along with the Monstera deliciosa's eye-catching fenestrations, the Thai Constellation plant features gorgeous mottled leaves with a touch of creamy variegation. The Thai Constellation cultivar is relatively difficult to grow, which was why it was such a rare and expensive plant for so long — just a few years ago, a handful of cuttings could go for hundreds of dollars.

Read more
Can you grow plants in water beads? Here’s what you need to know
Find out what common houseplants you can grow this way
A tulip in a vase with water beads

Keeping your plants healthy includes keeping them hydrated, but what is the best way to do that? There’s traditional watering, automated watering systems for when you’re out of town, and even water globes. One option you may have heard about is growing plants in water beads. Is this really an effective way to keep your plants hydrated, though, or are the potential risks more troublesome than they’re worth? This guide to gardening with water beads will answer all your questions.

What are water beads?
Water beads are gel spheres that come in a variety of sizes and colors. They absorb water and slowly release it over time, which is why some gardeners use them to keep their plants watered. Water beads can be made from a variety of materials, including both naturally occurring and manufactured substances.

Read more