Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, February 19, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Betty Ho adds a touch of whimsy to an arrangement
of anthuriums with a rabbit figurine.

Anthurium best in
supporting role

ANTHURIUMS are a lot easier to grow than to arrange as cut flowers. If they aren't carefully treated, they stand there on their long stems looking stiff and uncomfortable like 12-year-olds at their first dance. The plants can be grown almost anywhere on Oahu, and flower most of the year, making them a very successful house plant or bright garden accent. Each leaf on a healthy plant comes with its own flower. And with practice, they can actually be stunning in arrangements.

Alvin Tsuruda, a hybridizer of anthuriums in Waimanalo, gave a workshop Wednesday at Lyon Arboretum on the cultivation of the plants. It was followed by a demonstration by Betty Ho and Phyllis Guard of the Garden Club of Honolulu, who pretty much agreed that anthuriums are better in a supporting role than as the star of the show. Each of them incorporated the flowers with other material.

But before you can arrange them, you have to either grow or buy them -- Tsuruda opts for the first choice. Anthuriums thrive provided they are not overwatered or given too much sun. Direct sun fades the colors. A native of Central America, the anthurium was introduced to Hawaii more than 100 years ago and has been successfully hybridized by growers like Tsuruda and the horticulture department of the University of Hawaii.

Tsuruda grows his from seed, a process that takes from five to seven years to get a mature flowering plant, and also comes without guarantees. "When you cultivate from seed, no two plants will be alike -- you might get a real jewel or you might not. I find that many, because of shape or color or size, don't come up to expectations, and I throw them out." he said.

To propagate from seed, the female spadix, or spike, must be pollinated with the fine white dust taken from the spadix of the male flower. The big shiny red or pink or white forms are the bracts or modified leaves, and the flowers are the tiny bumps on the spadix.

Seeds that look like warts will form on the female spadix in six to eight months after pollination. The seeds are laid on potting soil until tiny shoots appear two months later. Three months after the seedlings appear, you transplant them into tiny pots. Seven years after that, you'll have a 3-foot-tall plant, one to three years after that, your first flower.

For more immediate action and with guaranteed results, Tsuruda recommends propagating from the top cut of a mature plant. "Sterilize your cutting shears before you go to work -- I use a 50 per cent solution of Physan, a disinfectant used by commercial growers, but you can use Clorox or rubbing alcohol in the same amount of water. This will destroy the bacterial blight that has wiped out so much of the anthurium industry over the past eight years," Tsuruda said.

The blight can be recognized by a brown spot circled in yellow on a leaf. The underside of the leaf will look waterspotted. If you see this on a plant, bag it in plastic and throw it out with the garbage. Don't use it for compost and don't try to doctor the plant. There is no known cure for the disease.

To top cut, you need a plant that has developed aerial roots. Cut off the top three mature leaves below their aerial roots, remove the mature flowers, and repot the cutting in a 6-inch pot. Keep it in a moist, humid place, and it will be established in two to three months.

"Use deep pots when planting anthuriums," he said. "The roots need the depth." Tsuruda makes his own potting mix of four parts cinders to one part peat moss, and he adds a teaspoon of Osmacote to each 6-inch pot. "Fir bark is cheaper than peat moss, but it decomposes too rapidly, and compacts at the bottom of the pot. This will hold the water and can cause root rot. Peat moss provides much better drainage.

"If you are planting anthuriums in your garden, don't dig a hole. Instead, build up a mound of cinders and plant them in that for better drainage and to prevent root rot." Tsuruda will have 40 different varieties of anthurium for sale at the Lyon Arboretum plant sale on Feb. 27.

Then the flower arrangers took over. Ho and Guard in every case arranged the anthuriums with other plant material, and in many cases cut the stems down to less than a foot. They used spider lily leaves, banana stalks, lots of ferns and grasses, even statuary, to relax the uptight look of the anthuriums.

Try it at home -- look around your garden for flowers that match or complement the color of the anthurium and for big, leathery leaves so that the anthuriums don't overpower the arrangement. And it isn't a sin to lop off those long stems for a more compact look. Cut them on an angle with a sharp knife, change the water and cut the tips regularly, and the anthuriums will stay fresh for weeks.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

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