Holland has its tulips. Japan has its blooming cherry trees. And Florida has its caladiums.
Sometimes called Angel Wings or Heart of Jesus, caladiums are spade-shaped, multi-colored perennials that can be grown inside or out throughout much of the country. They thrive in shade, although some varieties can handle sun, and have a deep-rooted Florida history.
In 1976, the University of Florida started its own caladium-breeding program in Bradenton, which is now the only major effort of its kind in the world. In nearby Lake Placid, farmers grow 98 percent of the world’s caladium tubers. Trial fields cover more than 1,500 acres.
“The fields are miles and miles of colorful stripes planted so precise, they look like colors drawn in the dirt,” says Eileen May, executive director of Lake Placid’s chamber of commerce. “They are so beautiful it amazes me. As far as you can see are acres of greens and reds and maroons.”
Which is why it’s no surprise that this region of Florida fancies itself the Caladium Capital of the World. And for the past quarter century, Lake Placid has thrown a caladium party every year to celebrate. The 25th Annual Caladium Festival takes place this weekend, July 24-26.
See arrangements at the floral competition, and stop for a refreshment at the beer garden before hopping on an air-conditioned tour bus to drive past acres of growing fields like those at Happiness Farms, the world’s largest caladium farm.
Before you head home, pick up a plant or twenty for your own garden, even if you live up north. Caladiums do well all the way up to Maine, and will live for the rest of the summer. After temperatures drop (everywhere except the tropical South) caladium tubers must be dug up, dried, and stored in peat moss for the winter. They’ll be ready to replant in late spring.
Learn more about growing caladiums on the university’s popular YouTube gardening channel, or stop by the festival yourself to speak with visiting experts. Lake Placid is two hours south of Orlando.