Anthurium is not really a flower but its petal-like bract is as decorative as any flower, writes Stephanie Choo
THE anthurium has a unique beauty of its own. Though botanically speaking it is not an actual flower, the distinctive form and vibrant colour of the petal-like bract is as appealing and decorative as any real flower.
There is another group of anthurium that produces the most amazing foliage. Both groups, nevertheless, are very attractive.
Anthurium is a large genus in the Araceae family of plants, originally from the Neotropics, in the Andes Mountains of Central and South America, parts of Mexico and the West Indies. It includes over a thousand species, along with numerous hybrids.
In its natural surroundings — the tropical rainforest — most anthurium species are epiphytes. They grow on trees, though some grow on the ground. They are herbaceous plants that flourish in shady and humid conditions, either like a climber or curving upwards to an erect position. One thing unique to the Anthurium is the geniculum, found at the top of the petiole. It allows the leaves to rotate towards the sun or source of light.
Anthurium means “tail flower” in Greek — anthos meaning flower and oura, tail (spadix). The plant is also known as Boy Flower, Painted Tongue and Flamingo Flower. These names refer to the structure of the flower.
Each of the heart-shaped, waxy, plastic looking blooms consists of a spadix enclosed by a spathe (single or double). They can be heart or teardrop-shaped and either upright or flat.
The spadix is a fleshy spike where numerous bisexual, tiny, true flowers grow and it comes in various size, shapes and colouration. Those flowers develop into berries after pollination. The spathe is not a flower but a modified leaf or a bract.
The most common colours are rich red and shades of red. The other main colours are pink, orange, coral and white. They also come in cream, brown, green, purple or multi-coloured (speckled or blended together). The highly attractive, brilliantly coloured bracts are popular as cut flowers and add interest to any floral arrangement.
The flowering types of Anthurium such as the Anthurium andraeanum, Anthurium scherzerianum and Anthurium cultivars (hybrids of two species, mainly between A. andraeanum and A. scherzerianum) are popular and widely available. The stem length ranges from 8cm to 40cm and are excellent choices for raising those dramatic, showy blossoms.
A. andraeanum is a large plant and is grown mainly for cut flower production. It has beautiful heart-shaped leaves and showy flower spathes. Andraeanum cultivars are smaller in size, more compact and produce more blooms. A. scherzerianum bears captivating ovate flower spathe with a curly spadix and arrow-shaped leaves.
To add exotic tropical foliage to the landscape, grow leaf type anthuriums. Their blooms are inconspicuous but they have handsome foliage in different forms, textures and sizes. The leaves can be heart-shaped or broad at the base and pointed at the tip. Some species can grow to over a metre high.
Species like A. clarinervium have wonderful velvety heart-shaped leaves with contrasting white veins. A. plowmanii and A. hookeri have leaves that grow in a rosette-like formation.
HOW TO GROW
Anthurium plants are slow growing and love to be in the shade. You can start a new plant using its division or stem cutting.
Grow in well draining, loose potting soil or a mixture of equal parts of black soil, sand or burnt soil and peat moss or compost. Place in the shade or underneath trees where it can get bright but indirect sunlight. You may settle the plant into the ground. Dig a hole about the same depth of the root ball but double the width. If planting in pots, transfer plant to a new pot with drainage holes that are a size larger. The new soil line should be the same as before.
Keep soil moderately moist all the time by watering regularly. Use fertiliser with higher phosphorus for good blooming. Otherwise, you may also use a well-balanced fertiliser and always feed lightly. Stake plant if necessary.
Anthurium is best planted outdoors where there is sufficient filtered light, humidity and warmth. Above all, there must be good ventilation.
The leaves are poisonous and the sap can cause irritation.
With their brightly coloured blooms, Anthuriums make a cheerful gift plant.