If you have a high light area that calls for a hanging or table plant that flowers, a Goldfish Plant, Columnea nematanthus, is a perfect choice. A Goldfish plant, native to Southern Mexico, Brazil, and Costa Rica, comes in over 25 different varieties. In nature, it is an epiphytic plant, meaning it grows on other plants, rocks, or trees for support. It’s a member of the Gesneriaceae family and a relative of the Lipstick Plant, Episcia, and African Violet.
Goldfish Plant Description
Goldfish plants have long stems, that grow up to 3ft in length, covered in hundreds of small, thick, shiny, dark green leaves and colorful tubular flowers that resemble tiny goldfish. The flowers can be red, orange, or yellow and usually appear in the spring; however, several of the new hybrid varieties produce flowers all year.
Goldfish Plant Varieties
“Columnea gregarious” produces clusters of bright orange, tubular flowers during the summer
“Variegated Columnea” has bright green shiny leaves with a cream-colored variegation and puffy orange goldfish shaped flowers
“Columnea Banksii” has dark green leaves with a reddish underside and 2.5” bright red flowers with a yellow inner lining.
“Columnea Gloriosa” has reddish hairs on the leaf and tubular 3” red flowers with a yellow center.
“Columnea Carnival” has bright yellow flowers with a reddish/burgundy border
Quick Care Tips for a Goldfish Plant
Bright light but no direct sun
Warm temperatures above 55°F
Keeping a Goldfish plant a little rootbound encourages more flowers
Trim stems once the flowers die to keep the plant full
High humidity if possible
Goldfish plants are easy to care for, drought resistant, and with proper care bloom on and off all year. My favorite way to show off a blooming Goldfish Plant, with its long vines, is in a hanging basket. These plants are considered slightly poisonous and should be kept away from pets and children. Read more about common houseplants that are poisonous in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants
A goldfish plant requires bright indirect light especially if you want it to develop flowers.
Allow the top 25%-30% of the soil to dry out before watering. Green leaves fall off when the plant is too wet or too dry.
Fertilize a goldfish plant every two weeks in the spring and summer when it is actively growing with a balanced plant food diluted to the recommended strength. Feed monthly in the fall and winter.
Goldfish plants do well in temperatures between 65°-85°F ( 18.3°-29.4°C). Intense heat burns the leaves. Try to keep goldfish plants out of drafts and away from heaters.
These plants prefer high humidity, but adapt well to basic household humidity.
Keeping a goldfish plant in a small pot and in a very bright location encourages it to flower.
Aphids and mealy bugs are the main problem. It’s difficult to eliminate these pests once they have infected a goldfish plant because of the plants numerous small leaves where the pests love to hide. Spray the thoroughly with the “Green Solution” (recipe in the Glossary) to get rid of plant pests but try to avoid spraying the flowers.
Botrytis, leaf spot, and some plant viruses may develop in high humidity.
Goldfish plants prefer a rich potting soil that holds water but still drains quickly. An African Violet soil works well.
Goldfish plants are usually found in 6″ and 8″ pots.
Trim aggressively to keep a goldfish plant full and in bloom. These plants look better and bloom more if you keep the stems between 12-18 inches (30-45 cm).
Propagate using stem cuttings from healthy new growth.
Poisonous Plant Info
A Goldfish Plant is a slightly poisonous houseplant with a level #1 toxicity.
Goldfish plants lose leaves when the plant is too wet or too dry. If it doesn’t appear to be a watering problem, your plant may just be going into a “rest period.” Trim back the bare branches, put the plant in lower light, and let the soil stay fairly dry. After about 4-6 weeks return it to a bright warm location and it should start to grow again.
Bright light is essential for a goldfish plant to get flowers. Stress the plant a little by letting it get dry every once in a while also helps it to bloom.
You can try rooting a goldfish plant using stem tip cuttings. Keep the planted cuttings plants in a clear plastic bag; this increases the humidity and helps the plant develop roots.
It’s difficult to get rid of Mealy Bugs on a goldfish plant because there are so many leaves where the bugs can hide. Spray every part of the plant, especially both sides of all of the leaves, with the “ green solution”, undiluted alcohol mixed with a few drops of mineral oil, and a few drops of biodegradable soap. Repeat every 10 days for at least a month