An annual plant with lush, green foliage, Hemigraphis repanda has multiple decorative purposes. It can be used as groundcover or for edging patios, walkways, borders, in rock gardens or even in containers.
The appeal of the Dragon’s tongue is its dramatic-looking foliage that features leaves with rippled edges. The plant also produces tiny white flowers.
Here’s how to take care of the Dragon’s Tongue:
Size & Growth
The plant grows low to the ground, hence its appeal as a groundcover. It will rarely grow higher than 15 inches and will spread to about 13 inches.
Plant your Dragon’s Tongue so that it’s exposed to bright, indirect light. Some direct light in the morning is also beneficial to it.
Indoors, you should position the Hemigraphis repanda so that it’s close to an east-facing window.
A healthy Dragon’s Tongue plant will have purple leaves. If the leaves are green, it means your plant isn’t receiving enough sunlight. If possible, move your plant to a location with more light.
Slightly moist soil is what this plant loves most, but it’s very easy to overwater it since it’s quite sensitive to root rot.
Because multiple factors come into play that decide how often you should water your plant, it’s difficult to set up a watering schedule that will work for all Hemigraphis repandas.
The best course of action is to inspect the soil every time you want to water the plant. If the soil is turning slightly dry, it’s safe to water. If it’s still fairly moist, wait for a couple of more days.
Tropical plants are often finicky about soil moisture levels and especially when the soil is not adequately well-draining.
Don’t dry out the soil completely either because this plant enjoys humidity and moisture, so by drying its soil out completely you’d cause the plant to wilt.
Simply use your index finger as a moisture probe and you should get a good feeling of how often you need to water the Hemigraphis repanda.
If the soil is prone to water-logging, your Dragon’s Tongue is a lost cause. With roots sensitive to excess water, you’d be fueling root rot issues by not picking an adequate potting mix.
Any well-draining potting mix will do. Check for mixes that contain perlite, peat, sphagnum moss, or other media that favors drainage.
The potting mix should only hold a bit of moisture and should not become saturated with water. It should also be fertile and well-aerated.
Potting mixes designed for tropical plants will work great for the Dragon’s Tongue plant as well.
Temperature & Humidity
The temperature range that’s ideal for the Dragon’s Tongue is in the 60°F to 75°F range. This is a comfortable room temperature, so you can easily match indoor temperature conditions to that of the plant.
Hemigraphis repanda is often solid as an aquarium plant, and while it enjoys high humidity, it will not survive under water. Not for long, anyway.
If you’re looking for a fully aquatic plant, check out the Red Dragon’s Tongue (Halymenia dilatata), which bears a similar name to the Dragon’s Tongue, but they’re not the same plant. The Red Dragon’s Tongue is a macroalgae with deep red coloration.
You can grow this plant outdoors in areas where temperatures don’t drop below 40 F. In those areas that plant is grown as a perennial.
But if you live in an area with cold winters and freezing temperatures, you’ll need to move the plant indoors for it to survive.
Although it’s a tropical plant that will thrive in high humidity, it does adapt to indoor humidity levels. You can help increase humidity by moving it to a bathroom, using a humidifier or occasionally misting the plant.
For lush green foliage and steady growth, use a blanched liquid fertilizer diluted at half-strength to feed the Dragon’s Tongue monthly throughout spring and summer.
No fertilizing is needed in fall and winter, because the plant goes dormant and fertilizing it will have no benefit to the plant. On the contrary, it can cause unwanted mineral build-up in the soil.
Even when you’re fertilizing in spring and summer, don’t go overboard with the fertilizer to prevent causing fertilizer burn.
Potting & Repotting
Don’t oversize the pot of your dragon’s tongue plant because the potting mix will take much longer to dry, increasing the chances of root rot.
The pot should have drainage holes drilled at the bottom. These will allow water to escape, once again reducing the chances of the often-fatal root rot.
Repot when the plant outgrows the pot. When repotting, make sure to gently pull the roots apart from the root ball.
For Hemigraphis repandas overwintered indoors, you can repot them in early spring when moving them outdoors.
How to Propagate Dragon’s Tongue Plant?
There are two ways to propagate the Dragon’s Tongue — stem cuttings and division.
In spring, take several stem cuttings of 3-4 inches each. Remove bottom leaves and plant in 6-inch pots filled with well-draining potting mix.
Keep the cutting in a warm location, away from strong light. Shade is even better. In about 2 weeks, the cuttings should start forming roots. Meanwhile, keep the soil moist by misting it rather than watering it.
Once the cuttings have new growths, you can acclimate them to outdoor growing conditions and move them in your garden or in larger containers.
Division is another way to propagate this plant. Division is best carried out when repotting the plant.
Simply divide the root ball, making sure that each division has a couple of shoots on. Transfer divisions to pots and resume the normal plant care for the Dragon’s Tongue.
Dragon’s tongue reaches its true potential when grown outdoors, where it can get plenty of bright, indirect light and can freely spread on the ground.
That said, the plant does not survive winter frosts, so it can only be grown outdoors all year round in areas where temperatures stay above 40 F.
While fond of moisture and humidity, it does not tolerate overwatering, so keep an eye on the moisture of the soil, just to make sure you’re not drowning your plant in too much water.