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How to Grow a Telegraph Plant

The Telegraph plant--also called Codariocalyx motorius, Desmodium gyrans, dancing plant, or semaphore plant--is often listed as one of the top 10 most unusual plants in existence. The reason for the fascination of the plant is its ability to rotate, or move the small leaflets, at the base of each larger leaf, to follow the warmth of the sun. Unlike most plants, this movement is fast and quite visible to the naked eye. Some people believe they can get their telegraph plant to dance to music. This may occur as the plant reacts to the vibrations of the tune.

In Containers

Plant your telegraph plant in a potting soil that is rich with compost or organic material, such as a commercial orchid potting mix, and drains well. You may wish to add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of clean sand or grit to the potting soil to increase good drainage. Telegraph plants are susceptible to root rot if the soil stays too soggy.

Place your telegraph plant in strong sunlight. Telegraph thrive in full or strong light and their leaves will grow larger and turn a vivid green color. Additionally, you may be able to see the "moving leaves" when your telegraph plant dances to the light.

Water your telegraph plant when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch, and you push your finger into the soil about an inch and that, too, feels dry. Water the plant until water begins to appear in the saucer below the pot. Do not let the water remain in the saucer, but remove it. Your telegraph plant prefers moist soil, though not soggy. During the winter, when the plant is dormant, keep the soil damp and water less frequently.

Fertilize your telegraph plant once a month during the spring and summer with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer per the label instructions. Do not fertilize your telegraph plant during its dormancy of winter, when it has lost its leaves.

In the Garden

Select an area that receives full sun for your telegraph plant if you live in USDA zone 10 or 11. Although you can plant your telegraph plant in particle shade, it will not grow as big, the leaves will not be as green, and you must guard against the soil becoming too wet. The addition of compost, organic material and sand may help with drainage. The telegraph plant is tender and extremely sensitive to cold. It should not be planted in the ground if you live in an area that has the potential for frost or freeze.

Water regularly during your telegraph plants growing period to keep the soil damp, but not soggy. Check the soil moisture by pushing your finger into the soil about an inch. If the soil feels dry, it is time to water your telegraph plant. Decrease your watering of the telegraph plant when it is dormant, in the winter. The telegraph plant is susceptible to root rot if the soil is too moist while it is in dormancy.

Fertilize your telegraph plant with liquid fish emulsion following the directions on the package.


The telegraph plant is one of the few plants that actually likes some clay in its growing soil, particularly if you are growing it outdoors. Mix some clay soil into the area before planting. For container telegraph plants, a handful of clay mixed into the potting soil seems to benefit the plant.


Your telegraph plant will lose its leaves in the fall as it goes into dormancy. It is not an evergreen.

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