Caladium steudneriifolium is a rare aroid part of the family of Araceae.
They are often known by the common name elephant ear (which they share with the closely related genera Alocasia, Colocasia and Xantasoma), heart of Jesus, and angel wings.
They grow in open areas of the forest and on the banks of rivers and go dormant during the dry season. When the plant is kept as a houseplant, this means it will go dormant during the winter months. At that point, the bulb should be removed from the soil and kept in a dry place. It can be replanted in spring after which the impressive leaves will show again.
C. steudneriifolium has been the subject of a research in 2008 by Ulf Soltau, Stefan Dötterl & Sigrid Liede-Schumann.
The plant feigns sickness to stop it being attacked by insect pests known as mining moths, which would otherwise eat its healthy leaves.
The scientists noticed that the plain green leaves of a plant known as C. steudneriifolium were far more frequently damaged by mining moths than those of variegated leaves of the same species nearby.
To test the idea, the researchers used white correction fluid to mimic the appearance of variegation on hundreds of healthy leaves. The results were the same.
Variegation occurs most commonly when cells in the leaf lose chlorophyll and their ability to photosynthesise, appearing white.
In theory, plants with variegated leaves should be at a disadvantage, because of this restricted ability to photosynthesise. This research suggests this may not be true after all. Instead, some variegated plants may be mimicking illness to avoid being eaten, putting themselves at an advantage.