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How to Grow Earth Star — Cryptanthus 

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Cryptanthus are terrestrial bromeliads with rippled, variegated leaves in a flat rosette. They are so low-growing and flat that they are nicknamed earth stars. Cryptanthus are grown for their colorful and unusual leaves, not flowers. Cryptanthus is commonly called Earth Star.

Cryptanthus leaves are often prickly, in shades of green, pink, copper, and bronze. Cryptanthus are stemless; some leaves emerge from stolons, a type of underground root.

Cryptanthus bear inconspicuous waxy white flowers. When flowers appear on mature plants, offsets commonly follow. Offsets can be removed and planted to start new plants.

Cryptanthus is a genus of about 50 species native to forests in eastern Brazil. There are numerous hybrids. 

Get to know Cryptanthus  

  • Plant type: Terrestrial bromeliads 
  • Growing zones and range:  Zone 15
  • Optimal growing temperature: day, 68° to 75°F (20° to 24°C); slightly cooler at night. It requires average room temperature and high humidity. 
  • Height and width: 4 to 8 inches (10-20cm) tall and 10 to 24 inches (25-60cm) wide
  • Foliage: Flat, star-shaped waxy-margined leaves from flat, star-like rosettes
  • Flowers: Waxy white flowers appear on mature plant and signal the appearance of offsets. 
  • Bloom time:  Summer
  • Uses:  Houseplant, tropical garden
  • Common name: Earth star 
  • Botanical name: Cryptanthus 
  • Family name: Bromeliaceae
  • Origin:  Eastern Brazil
Cryptanthus zonatus
Cryptanthus zonatus

Where to plant Cryptanthus  

  • Light: Indoors plant Cryptanthus in bright light, no direct sun, from eastern or western exposure for best color. Air circulation is important. Cryptanthus adapts to various light conditions, but bright light enhances its leaf color. 
  • Light: Outdoors plant Cryptanthus in partial or dappled shade
  • Soil: Grow Cryptanthus in terrestrial bromeliad mix. Peat-bases soilless mix or in sphagnum moss. s

When to plant Cryptanthus  

  • Set Cryptanthus outdoors in a tropical or subtropical climate any time during the year.  

Planting and spacing Cryptanthus  

  • Space  Cryptanthus 10 to 24 inches (25-60cm) apart depending on the variety.

How to water and feed Cryptanthus  

  • Water: Water Cryptanthus moderately during the growing season. Mist leaves regularly with tepid water
  • Feeding: Apply a dilute fertilizer monthly. Never fertilize a dry plant. 

Cryptanthus care  

  • Cryptanthus growth may slow in winter. Set Cryptanthus in a cool place, 60°F (16°C), with full light. Reduce water in winter.

Growing Cryptanthus as a houseplant

  • Cryptanthus can adapt to various light conditions, but bright light enhances the leaf color.
  • Cryptanthus require average room temperature and high humidity.
  • Allow the potting mix to dry substantially between thorough waterings.
  • Fertilize the plant in spring and summer.

Cryptanthus pests and diseases  

  • Cryptanthus is vulnerable to damage by scale insect and mealybugs. 

Cryptanthus propagation  

  • Propagate Cryptanthus from offsets or seeds. Offsets can be repotted in a peat-bases soilless mix or in sphagnum moss. 

Cryptanthus varieties to grow  

  • Cryptanthus bivittatus. Wavy, greenish brown or cream-striped leaves with a pink tint; leaves grow to 4 inches long. C. bivittatus ‘Minor’ has green and cream to pink stripes; leaves are narrower and shorter. 
  • C. x ‘It’, color-band cryptanthus. Green leaves with cream and pink stripes.  
  • C. bromelioides. Grows to 18 inches (46 cm) tall, bears white, rose, and green leaves. 
  • C. ‘Pink Starlite’. Dainty, striped in cream, green, and pink.  
  • C. zonatus. Green leaves crossbanded with light brown, grows 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) tall. 

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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