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What is Aglaonema?

By Kay Blynn
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Aglaonema belongs to a group of plants called the Araceae or Arum family. One common name for the Aglaonema is the Chinese Evergreen, although dozens of varieties are available under a many different names. Aglaonema originated from the swamps and rain forests of southeastern Asia in areas such as the Philippines and Southern China. Aglaonema can also be grown outdoors in tropical regions, but is typically grown indoors as a decorative houseplant. Proceed carefully, however, because most varieties of the plant are considered poisonous and can cause irritation to the skin and mouth.

The Aglaonema family of plants includes about 40 species. Generally speaking, Aglaonema leaves are long, somewhat narrow, and rounded. The leaves are typically variegated, in other words containing a mix of colors. Leaves can be several shades of green, white, and pink in any combination. Because Aglaonema is such a popular houseplant, growers are constantly introducing new varieties to the market in a wide variety of colors.

Aglaonemas are low growers, ranging from eight inches (about 20 cm) to 4 feet (about 150 cm) in height. Aglaonemas produce flowers, but the flowers are usually inconspicuous, lost in the foliage of the plant. The bloom can resemble green pods or small, white enclosed flowers. Although the flowers can be left on the plant, they serve no purpose and can be cut off to encourage continued growth.

Chinese evergreens can be grown outside in partial or full shade. Aglaonemas are herbaceous plants, meaning they have a soft green stem. As such, they do not tolerate the cold well. Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) will cause severe damage to and kill most Aglaonema plants.

Aglaonemas are generally grown indoors and have become a popular plant in homes and and offices because they are so easy to grow. The plants tolerate a wide variety of indoor light and soil types. Although Aglaonema plants prefer regular water, they can survive quite well with minimal care.

The sap, i.e., the fluid substance inside the leaves of a Chinese Evergreen, is poisonous. The sap contains a chemical compound known as calcium oxalate crystals. When the leaves of a Chinese Evergreen are cut or broken, this chemical can cause minor irritation when exposed to the skin. When chewed, the sap can cause irritation to the lips, tongue, and throat. This chemical is not considered deadly, and the discomfort may only last a few minutes before dissipating.

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