Aglaonema pictum tricolor: Care & Culture of the Camouflage Plant

In Houseplants & Tropicals
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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 over a year. If you want to see a historical timeline of my plant, hop over to my instagram highlight at any time.

  • Price: Moderately expensive. Aglaonema pictum tricolor has historically run in the price range of $75 to $300(CDN) for a single stemmed plant. This will vary by local demand, availability, and quality, as some clones are more desirable and may even exceed that upper range. The higher price of this plant is likely related to how slowly the plant grows. Propagation cycles tend to be on more of an annual timescale, so it’s hard to build up significant inventory if you only start with a plant or two; to be clear, propagation is simple; however, getting established plants of sellable size (a few leaves + stem) will likely take at least 6-12 months if you’re using stem or node props.
  • Challenges: While not difficult to grow, the Camouflage Plant has a reputation for being a bit dramatic—dropping leaves, getting root rot, and generally being more problematic than other common houseplants. Tailored culture and consistent conditions can help avoid extreme episodes of leaf drop and root issues.
  • Bottom-line care: I have found A. pictum tricolor generally 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 also tend to be heavy feeders so a good nitrogen-focused organic fertilizer can help keep leaves lush.
  • Leaf pattern 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 strip

     

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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Flowers are *probably* not self-fertile (or are rarely self-pollinated): I tried self-pollinating my plant many times when it was pushing over 10 inflorescences. Fruits started, however, all but one eventually aborted. The one fruit that didn’t abort, turned orange about 8 months after pollination; I plucked off the fruit, removed the skin, soaked the seed in water for 2 hours, and planted it on top of moist sphagnum in my Nepenthes terrarium (the humidity in there sits around 80% which would reduce the stress on a tiny plant). I’ll update this post if anything comes from that Aglaonema pictum seed, but getting seed from self-pollination seems rare, and if you want seeds from your plant you’ll likely have a better chance with cross pollination.

 

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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

Understanding I dislike single growth Aglaonemas, my goal is to grow my plant into a small specimen so it looks more appealing. 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. 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 this 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 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.”

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 roll 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.

Fertilizer

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.

Aglaonema flower
(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!).

People told me to cut the flowers off. I didn’t, and I don’t generally remove flowers, because I believe letting a plant run it’s full and natural cycle influences the activation of hormones between the growth stages. I could be wrong and it’s a preference. But if your plant is flowering, it may prevent leaf drop if you remove the flowers before they develop. Flower production in plants directs energy (sugar, water, and nutrients) to the flowering body, so removing that flower redirects that flow back to the foliage. That said, once mine finished flowering, at least 10 nodes activated with new growth points; some started at the base, many at the top. Also, if a growth started in the same place a leaf was, the leaf yellowed, died, and fell off as the new growth swelled and pushed through. You can see how many new upper growths would make an ugly plant for a short period if the old leaves died off.

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?).

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:

Dieffenbachia Reflector
Dieffenbachia Camouflage
Homalomena Camouflage (wallisii)