telegraph plant

Growing and Caring for The Telegraph Plant (Codariocalyx motorius)

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If you like unique plants, then the telegraph plant (Codariocalyx motorius) is a must-have for your collection. Not a whole lot is known about why they behave the way they do. One thing is for sure though, these plants know how to dance!

In fact, these plants can be stimulated to move from changes in light and even sound. That’s right, sound. Many plants move, but dancing plants move fast enough to see it happen in real-time.

When it comes to looks, there isn’t much to remark about though. They are small to medium-sized shrubs of the Pea family. These deciduous perennials will shed their leaves in the colder months too. 

Plant Facts

Scientific nameCodariocalyx motorius, Previously Desmodium gyrans
Common namesTelegraph plant, Dancing plant, Semaphore plant
FamilyFabaceae
Plant TypeHouseplant, tropical shrub
Height and Width2-4 ft. tall (indoors), 1-2 ft. wide (indoors)
OriginSoutheast Asia from Pakistan to the Philippines, and south to Australia
Flower colorsLavender-Lilac
Foliage colorBright-grayish green 
Sun ExposureDirect sunlight, Partial sunlight
Soil Type & pHWell-drained potting soil, slightly acidic to neutral pH
Special featuresCan be grown in containers, leaves move in response to light and sound

How to Grow a Telegraph Plant

Telegraph plants are a bit of a rarity, but fortunately, seeds are available if you wish to grow one of these amazing plants. They do well in containers in bright, sunny spots, but can also be grown out in the garden if you live in a warm climate such as USDA zone 10-11 or equivalent. 

Propagation

Dancing plants can be grown from seeds at any time of the year if you have the patience. Seeds should be scarified and soaked in warm water for two days to encourage germination, but even then, sprouting times vary greatly. Some growers will be lucky enough to see results in just days, while others may wait more than 2 months. 

For your best chance of success, keep the seeds in the mid 70°F (23-25°C) range while germinating if possible and cover the tray in clear plastic to maintain high humidity. Check the soil from time to time to make sure it is remaining moist.  

Soil

The dancing plant can be grown in standard potting soil. Choose a variety that contains organic compost that will provide the roots with nutrients. If you find that your chosen soil is holding too much water, consider adding perlite or coarse sand to the mix. 

A soil that drains too fast can cause the plant to dry out if not watered frequently. In this case, incorporating vermiculite into the soil will improve moisture retention. 

Pruning

The telegraph plant has a naturally narrow and upright form and does not need much in the way of pruning. If necessary, prune this plant in the late winter or early spring before it comes out of dormancy and begins to bud. 

Repotting and Transplanting

If your dancing plant has outgrown its pot and become root-bound you will need to repot it into a larger container. It is best to move these deciduous plants in their dormant period so that they can settle in for a full growing season when spring comes around. Young dancing plants should be transplanted with care, so avoid removing all the soil from the root zone. 

How to Care for a Telegraph Plant

If you’ve been successful in growing your telegraph plant, or you’ve been lucky enough to pick up an established plant, you will not struggle to care for it if you provide for its basic needs. Read on for more details.

Water

Dancing plants will grow best in soil that is consistently, but lightly moist. Feel your soil and if it is dry to the touch just below the surface, it’s time to give the plant a drink. Wet, saturated soil is a very unhealthy environment for this plant, however, so be sure to use a container with adequate drainage. 

In the winter, the dancing plant drops its leaves and goes into dormancy. At this time you should limit the plant’s water. 

Sunlight

Although it is possible to grow the telegraph plant indoors, they are known to do best with plenty of sunshine. For this reason, a position near a large south-facing window would be ideal. 

Alternatively, you could supplement the light of a bright but indirectly lit area with some electric glow lights. A good source of light will also encourage these plants to move their leaves. 

Temperature and Humidity

Telegraph plants come from semi-tropical and tropical areas of the world, so they enjoy warm temperatures. They are very sensitive to cold and are easily killed by frost. Outdoors, for example, these plants are only suitable for the warm conditions of USDA zones 10-11 or equivalent. 

Fertilizer

Feeding this plant in the growing season will promote better growth and health. Choose a complete fertilizer that contains the NPK macronutrients and be sure to follow the instructions on the label. Telegraph plants go into dormancy in winter and should not be fertilized at this time. 

Pest and diseases

The leaves of the telegraph plant hang down from the branches at night. If you see this, don’t worry, your plant is not wilting, it’s just showing off its mobile nature. 

Like most other container-grown plants, the telegraph plant may be susceptible to root rot if overwatered. Apart from conditions caused by extremes of light, water, and temperature, these plants are hardy and resistant to pests. 

Conclusion

The Telegraph plant is a really fascinating species to grow. It might not be ornamental enough to be a showcase plant, but as a curiosity, this one deserves a place in any collection. Watching this plant dance can make you think about plants a little differently, and reminds us that they are very much living organisms. 

For more houseplants to grow, check this houseplants list.

*image by Gicku91/depositphotos

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