Aglaonema pictum tricolor is a stunning plant with camouflage leaves that really stands out in a houseplant collection. Here are some quick pointers to get you started if you’re considering getting this plant for yourself, and further down is a detailed caresheet based on my experience growing this plant for two years. If you want to see a historical timeline of my plant, hop over to my instagram highlight at any time.
- Aglaonema pictum tricolor Price: At one point these plants were moderately expensive (in the realm of $75 to $300(CDN)) for a single stemmed plant. However, big box retailers like Home Depot and Canadian Tire have started selling mass-produced plants at a fraction that price, and you may be able to find them for under $25 now (yay!). Like all plants, cost will vary by local availability, demand, and quality. Some clones are more desirable and may still exceed that upper $300 range. The higher price of this plant was likely related to how slow it grows, but tissue culture plants are now abundantly more available and affordable. For home growers, propagation cycles tend to be on more of an annual timescale, so it may be hard to build up significant inventory if you’re only starting with a single plant or two. Propagation from stem or single node props, while simple, takes a minimum of 6-12 months to get established plants of sellable size (a few leaves + stem).
- Bottom-line care: Overall I have found A. pictum tricolor is mostly easy to grow. They are comparable to any other Aroid and you can apply the same care methods to APT without stress. Avoid drought, use well-draining soil, and give more than “low light” but avoid direct midday sun which can scorch the leaves. They tend to be heavy feeders, so a good nitrogen-focused organic fertilizer can help keep leaves lush.
- Notable observations: there are some quirky growth traits with Aglaonema pictum tricolor, which include: spindly, top heavy, palm-tree-like growth in younger plants, chlorotic leaves, a seasonal abundance of -ugly (up to interpretation)- flowers, and sometimes a very seasonal die-back of leaves.
- Challenges: contradictory to my comment about the Camouflage Plant being easy to grow, it does have a reputation for being dramatic—dropping leaves, getting root rot, and generally being more problematic than other common houseplants. I still consider it easy…but in my opinion it is a highly seasonal grower, with optimal growth happening in late spring to summer. A few people have told me otherwise, but after purchasing a second plant, it’s very clear to me that during the winter they experience leaf die back and stop producing new leaves. I have orchids that do the same thing—it’s not a big deal. Tailored culture and consistent conditions (photo period, water regularity, temperature, etc) may help avoid extreme episodes of leaf drop and root issues, but it also helps to have realistic expectations and just beware that the plant is very seasonal and changes in growth should be expected.
- Pests: They’re thrips magnets. If you already have to seasonally treat your collection, you’ll want to add this plant to the treatment list.
- Leaf patterns & variants: Young leaves of some specimens can have a “skunk strip” down the middle. I have been told they grow out of this; however, I have also seen some larger plants with that same prominent strip. So, I suspect leaf patterns vary by individual plant. I purchased a second plant with a strip so I could compare how it matures in contrast to my older plant (which never had a skunk strip).
Photo of Young Aglaonema pictum showing characteristic white skunk stripView this post on Instagram
- Additional cultivars of Aglaonema pictum tricolor: There are a few specialty or unique variants outside of your most common form. Things like slender leaves, 2-tone colors, and tint variations where the green is more dull or mint colored, others with darker and more contrasted colors, and types where the distribution of spots is different. Some of this may be related to light intensity; however, it is also likely related to the species distribution across different localized clusters in nature.
- Flowers are rarely self-pollinated (but can be): I tried self-pollinating my plant many times when it was pushing over 10 inflorescences. While many fruit started, all but one aborted. That last remaining fruit took 8 months after pollination to ripen and turn orange. Once ready, I plucked it off the plant, removed the skin, soaked the seed in water for 2 hours, and planted it on top of moist sphagnum in my Nepenthes terrarium (where the humidity sits around 80%). It took more than 3 months for the first leaf to pop up…and like the adult form, this plant is excruciatingly slow growing. Clearly self-pollination is possible and can produce viable seed, but you may have a better fertility with cross pollination.
7-month photo series of A. pictum tricolor fruit, seed and germination
A product of self-pollination, the series goes from June 2022 (far left) to Jan 2023 (far right):
I’ll continue updating this post as the Aglaonema pictum tricolor seed grows.
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Personal assessment: I love the look of the camo leaves, but I have a bit of a love-hate relationship growing the plant. The ‘hate’ starts with the plant’s name, which for the life of me, I can never spell correctly!! It’s not Agleonema, Aglonema, or Angleonema but Aglaonema and my mildly dyslexic brain does not like this. I also find younger plants look a bit awkward when they only have a leaf or two on a long stem. Adding to this meek display is a very seasonal growth style which can result in gangly looking plants for part of the year. BUT ugly duckling syndrome aside…the leaves do look beautiful (when the plant is not in bloom, not in its off season and not stressed), and if you can get an established plant with multiple growths…they look stunning!
Photos of an Aglaonema pictum tricolor over a one-year growth period
Aglaonema pictum tricolor the following season
Understanding I dislike single-growth Aglaonemas, my goal is to grow my plant into a bushy specimen so it looks more appealing (which means no cutting). The care tips below are what I’ve learned and followed over the last year and a bit.
Care Overview: Aglaonema pictum tricolor
Humidity – Does Aglaonema pictum tricolor need high humidity?
No, does not require high humidity. Despite what other blogs say about A. pictum tricolor’s humidity requirements, I have found that the camo plant can deal with room humidity as long as it’s not water stressed. I grow my plant below 50%rH (often below 35%), and have done so for over a year. If we ignore it’s somewhat ugly winter season, it’s done well and is certainly not dead. I should note: I strictly avoid dehydration or water stress (I never wait for a plant to look limp or have droopy leaves before I water). Instead, I water on a schedule and utilize a well-draining potting media to prevent water-logged soil. Plants in nature don’t get watered based on the needs of each plant, they grow in soils that are well draining and the plants often get rained on daily for weeks at time during peak rainy seasons. This means their roots have adapted to ample moisture, but also good oxygen-rich conditions and can rot easily if grown in a potting media that is too dense or compacted. A consideration though, if you grow your plant in lower humidity, you may find the seasonal growth cycles are more distinct. As with any tropical plant, if you can offer higher humidity (65-75%), it’s probably more ideal and will reduce water stress on the plant.
Light – How bright should you grow pictum tricolor?
They do best with fairly bright indoor light. Not direct midday sun where the leaves can scorch, but something near an East or West window would be ideal. A place where the plant will get some early-morning or late-evening direct sun (that won’t burn the leaves). Filtered direct sun would the most ideal; in the range of 5-20% filtered sun equivalence; so about 500–2000fc, 110–440PAR/ppfd, or 6,400–25,600lux, for 8-12h per day. If your using LED grow lights on a strict schedule, you can aim for the lower end of the measurement because LEDs are more consistent in their output. Watch for yellowing or chlorotic leaves and either remedy with additional fertilizer, or decrease the light intensity. If you’re using natural light only, aim for the upper range over shorter hours, but always watch for signs of heat stress (especially in the hottest days of summer). Leaf burn is irreversible, and seasonal differences in light can change greatly depending on where you live.
Signs of stress – Is my camouflage plant doing okay?
Droopy leaves (dehydration), chlorotic -yellow- leaf color (too much light or too little nutrients), and root rot (bad potting media or water chemistry issues) can all be signs something is off in your plant’s care. Don’t panic if your plant has any of these symptoms, just keep in mind there may be opportunity for improvement; also beware that pictum tricolor can seasonally look kind of ratty during the winter and early spring. So assess your plant with a critical eye and don’t assume yellow leaves are directly related to a problem, they could be part of the seasonal turn over as new shoots push out old leaves. Root rot is a common problem that can lead to limp and yellow leaves too, so if in doubt, check the roots.
Potting Media & Water – the cause of root rot and how to avoid it in Aglaonema
This species tends to be a plant that likes a lot of water and prefers consistently moist conditions, but they need a well-draining and airy soil. If you’re using pure water and a peat-based potting media, you may find your plant easily gets root rot from “overwatering” because pure peat can be too acidic or too dense when wet (which chokes the roots deeper in the pot). The thick, fleshy roots thrive with good airflow AND lots of moisture (which is why cuttings can be easily propagated in water). If you’re finding root rot is an issue, amend your media with more drainage material (like pumice, perlite or LECA), and check that your water isn’t too pure. Distilled, reverse osmosis (RO) and rainwater can be excessively acidified by peat or sphagnum-based media and that can affect nutrient availability, making nutrient deficiencies or toxicities an issue.
I use my standard Aroid potting media which is a ratio of 60/40 drainage to water retention. 60% large chunk pumice/perlite/leca/bark to about 40% peat/sphagnum/cocopeat. I’m not very precise about this…My goal is for a media that dries within a week and those ratios allow me to achieve that. If you use too much peat, sphagnum, or cocopeat, then the lower layer can potentially stay too wet for too long, and as the media ages it will compact, further reducing airflow, which can eventually kill the roots—resulting in what symptomatically looks like “root rot” after months of seemingly good growth.
Remedy for persistent root rot: If you’re repeatedly dealing with root rot after amending the potting media with more drainage, I suggest adding a small amount of crushed oyster shell to the potting mix (about 1/8–1/4tsp per pot). Oyster shell works as a buffer to prevent extremely acidic conditions and is the equivalent of limestone in its role in changing soil chemistry. Not all plants prefer this (so don’t erroneously do this with all other tropical plants), but those species adapted to limestone regions are often specifically less tolerant of extremely acidic conditions and tend to have root and rot issues more easily.
Aglaonema pictum tricolor has responded to fertilizing better than pretty much any other species of plant I grow. This leads me to believe they come from fairly rich and organic soils. I use an organic fertilizer which is composed of bloodmeal for nitrogen, rock dust for minerals, bat guano, feather meal and insect frass for phosphorus, and oyster shell for calcium. I only use about 1/8tsp per pot (of all combined ingredients, not each one) once every two or three months; however, if under fed the leaves yellow easily and I have remedied with additional applications. I also use a dilute amount of synthetic (salt-based) fertilizer once a month, which is MSU for orchids and includes a range of micro nutrients.
Specimen-Sized Plants: How to get a big, bushy, multigrowth Aglaonema
Want a big plant? You should, because established specimens are stunning! But if you want that, then don’t chop & prop in the first year! If you agree that Aglaonema pictum tricolor is a slow growing plant (compared to something like a Philodendron), then you can understand how an established plant with more leaves and roots has the potential to grow faster, recover more quickly, and produce more growths, compared to a single cutting with an under-established root system. So, if your goal is for a bushy plant, focus on growing it well—the opportunity for cutting will follow.
Growth cycle: An active growth stem will take a year to mature, then it will flower, branch, and a few new nodes will activate from the base and top of the plant. The new growths will follow this same growth cycle, and will take about another year to mature and flower as well. This means if you want a bushy plant with 10+ growth points (and you currently have a single stem), you can expect it might take about 3+ years of good, healthy, un-impeded (no cutting) growth to achieve that. With optimal nutrients, healthy roots, and the upper range of tolerable light, you might be able to get a plant this size a bit sooner. At the start of my plant’s second year, it pushed out 10 new growth points! 3 at the soil line, and 7 above the soil line.
(technically it’s called an inflorescence because this is actually a cluster of flowers)
Should I cut my Aglaonema pictum tricolor? It’s your plant and you can do whatever you want. I get the appeal of propagating plants, and if your goal is to share or sell this species, then cutting it is a great way to get more individual plants. A lot of people tend to cut their plants as soon as offshoots start or in an attempt to restart the kind of awkward-looking stem, but this results in similarly small and gangly-looking growths. So, if your objective is to have a big and robust houseplant, I strongly suggest holding off on propagation until you have multiple mature growths. Save single-node props as an emergency fall back to save a dying plant. Again though…it’s personal and depends on your desired outcome. Do whatever you want with your plant.
Seasonal Growth – Aglaonema pictum tricolor leaf drop
I don’t know if this is common for the species, or more related to my conditions (dry air, cooler temps, and seasonally shorter days in the winter), but my plant is EXTREMELY seasonal. In the first year, it looked great up until September. Then it flowered producing about 11 or 12 inflorescence (that’s a lot for a single stemmed plant!).
From the photo, you can see how rough it looked during winter into early spring. However, as the new growth points have started leafing out, the plant has bushed up and it’s looking much better. So, based on this experience (and growing LOTS of other seasonal orchids), I assume that naturally the plant is used to annual weather queues, making it seasonal in its growth patterns. That or…my plant was just really unhappy (but also happy enough to push a bunch of new growth points?).
Sept 2022 Update: Just as my plant was starting to bush out and look good again…like clockwork…it started flowering. This year I’m cutting the flowers off to see if it helps reduce the seasonal leaf drop I experienced last year.
New Growths & Seasonal Offshoots
7 activated leaf nodes
3 basal growths
Wrap up: That largely covers my perspectives on care and culture of Aglaonema pictum tricolor. I know a lot of common perspectives on growing this plant directly contradict the opinions I’ve just outlined. That’s okay. Adapt which advice you want to apply to your plant, but I my intent was to give you context around my care. I see a LOT of comments online from people who struggle with this plant and typically the generic recommended solution is to put the plant in a cloche (to keep humidity up) and to cut the stems down (and propagate) when they get leggy. Know though, an established Aglaonema pictum tricolor can achieve a dozen or more stems on a single plant (a sight to behold). If you keep cutting a plant down, or if you put it in a small and restricted enclosure, you’re going to struggle getting it to size up because it needs a good, healthy and established root system to power a multigrowth plant. Again…personal preference, but it’s something to think about when considering plant care advice for your own plant.
If you’re looking for a bit more…below are a few more photos of my plants, and past that are some “lookalike plants” or “plant dupes” you may also enjoy (and for a lower price point).
Photos of Aglaonema pictum tricolor
Related plants – Plants that look like Aglaonema pictum tricolor
If you really like the camo look of Aglaonema pictum tricolor leaves, you’ll like these as well: