Anthuriums Reinvented

December 31, 2002 - 13:30

This specialty crop, with its brilliant whites and reds, has potential to become the next big plant for the holidays.

Somewhere between the explosion of the foliage industry in the
70s and the changing of the interiorscape market, many of us lost touch with
what was happening in the world of foliage. I have recently been working on
renovating our conservatory/teaching collection here on campus in Gainesville
and, in the process, rediscovering some of the standards of the foliage
industry. In the process, I've found out how many of the interior plant
cultivars I learned about 10 years ago are no longer in production. It
shouldn't surprise me that the foliage industry's changes have been keeping
pace with the bedding plant market, but it's a lot like visiting friends and
seeing how much their children have grown; changes always seem to happen faster
in other people's houses than they do in your own.

Anthuriums are one of the crops where a lot of changes have
taken place in the last 10 years. Breeding has really changed the face of this
crop, but also, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around out there
that have limited the adoption and use of this wonderful flower. Anthuriums
remain one of the crops that most Northern nurseries bring in as pre-finished
or finished, but the sparsely flowered forms of years ago are long since
replaced by earlier and heavier-flowering varieties. There have also been
massive changes in the number of colors available, as well as the growth habits
and sizes available. A lot of the breeding advances have been made by one of
the University of Florida's own breeders, Dr. Jake Henny, at the Mid-Florida
Research Center. I mention his name to give him credit for some really
excellent cultivars, but also to yank his chain a little as I am sure he would
prefer I not go on about him too much! Smile Jake!

The New Anthurium

At first glance, the biggest changes with this crop seem to be
that the newer cultivars have smaller, and a lot more, flowers than the older
forms, which is true in some respects and not the whole story in others. The
true advances are in early-flowering cultivars, so we can now have 4-inch pots
of anthurium in full flower. However, the flowers are not necessarily smaller;
the new hybrids just begin flowering so much earlier that you'd think they were
dwarf or smaller flowers. If you grow these plants out in larger containers,
their flowers get larger as the plant gets larger, up to a certain point.

I was recently touring NGM Enterprises in Apopka, Fla., a
nursery specializing in anthurium as finished product from 4- to 10-inch. While
I was there, I noticed that a lot of the cultivars I had assumed were
small-flowered had beautiful, large flowers when grown out in larger
containers. If you are looking for some impressive specimen flowering material,
you should really check out the larger container sizes.

Anthurium flowers are typical of plants in the family
Araceae. Members of this family have a distinctive flower structure composed of
two main parts: The spathe is a modified leaf (this is the brightly colored
portion of the flower), and the spadix is the column-like spike of the true
flower parts. The color range of the spathe has been expanded from the red,
pink and orange tones of the past into deep burgundy, rich purple, coral, clear
pink and bi-color forms. All of these colors are presented as thick, rich, waxy
blooms from 1-11 inches across. The average flower lasts up to 10 weeks, and
anthuriums also make excellent cut flowers. 'Ramona' is a hybrid from K.P.
Holland/Foremost Co. that has a crested spadix, so each flower is slightly
different. The "witch's broom" effect really adds a lot of interest
to this flower.

Production of anthuriums is somewhat specialized. First of
all, they are a slow crop, taking somewhere around nine months to produce a
6-inch pot from a 72-cell liner. It is due to this long production time that
most Northern growers and florists ship-in finished material rather than
growing their own plants. The very cleanest production facilities are essential
throughout production, as small plants are susceptible to bacterial and fungal
problems. Plants begin as tissue culture liners and are grown out as 4-inch
material. Plants are shifted to larger containers as they grow, so that last
year's 4-inch crop may be next year's 6- to 8-inch crop, depending on the vigor
of the cultivar.

Debunking the Myths

There are a number of misconceptions in the industry about
what anthuriums need to perform at their best. While they are tropical and do
need warmth and high humidity to flourish, here are some things they don't
need.

Misconception #1.
Anthuriums are low-light plants. The key to continued flowering is bright,
indirect light. Yes, you want to avoid direct northern sun as it will scorch
the foliage, but by the same token, don't assume the plant needs to be kept in
the dark. Lack of light is the major reason anthuriums stop flowering.

Misconception #2.
Anthuriums need lots of water. Keep these plants on the dry side; they like to
dry out between watering. It has a lot to do with their thick, fleshy roots
needing air and rotting if kept too wet. All in all, it is better to slightly
under-water than to over-water. Anthuriums are not drought-tolerant, so don't
go overboard; leaf tips may scorch if plants become too dry. It is also not
necessary to repot anthuriums as, in most cases, they prefer to be root-bound,
and this helps to avoid over-watering.

Misconception #3.
Anthuriums need a lot of fertilizer. Anthuriums are actually pretty light
feeders, needing only between 75-200 ppm nitrogen as a regular feeding. Try to
stick with a 1:2:1 ratio fertilizer, and occasionally flush the soil with clear
water to keep the soluble salt level low.

Sizing Anthuriums

Anthuriums for 4-inch sales. Remember that most cultivars begin life as 4-inch pots before being
shifted into larger pots. Therefore, most cultivars can be grown as small pots,
but certain cultivars flower more vigorously in small pots than others. There
is a new series out from Oglesby called 'Small Talk'; bright colors and early
flowering allow it be produced in 4-inch or larger pots.

Anthuriums for 6-inch sales. Most current cultivars work well in a 6-inch pot, but some produce
more flowers and offer more color than others. Here are a few to look for if
you want 6-inch material. Try 'Orange Hots' and 'Red Hots' for a
multi-flowered, bright, tropical effect; these are from the University of
Florida's Dr. Jake Henny's breeding program. Also, check out 'Anouke'
(Rijn/Milestone Agriculture) and 'Ms. June' (Agristarts) for rich purple tones.
Twyford's 'Tropic Fire' was a strong red, as is Agristarts' 'Miami Beauty'.

Anthuriums for 8- to 10-inch sales style='font-weight:normal'>. These are the cultivars for really outstanding,
large flowers and dramatic foliage. While any of the above cultivars is likely
available in larger pots, I really was impressed with Milestone Agriculture's
'Sarah', with peach- and green-mottled blooms up to 12 inches across;
'Cleopatra' was a magnificent pure white with 6-inch blooms and deep green
foliage; and 'Red Love' was also excellent with high contrast between the red
and green portions of the flower. The flowers on these cultivars often age back
into green tones, so they last longer on the plant and provide a very
long-lasting tropical color.

As I had just begun my annual trip around the state of
Florida to look at poinsettia crops, I couldn't help but look at the brilliant
red anthuriums and think the ultimate heresy? "Why can't these
plants also be used as holiday items?" The white forms are stately, the
colored types are vivid, and they last many months instead of weeks. All of
this not only tells you this is a good upper-end crop but that we can probably
expect to see more of this plant in the future. Just as orchids and bromeliads
have become commodity crops available in most nurseries and mass-market
outlets, I think you'll be seeing a lot more anthuriums in the future as well. style="mso-spacerun: yes">

About The Author

Rick Schoellhorn is assistant professor of floriculture at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. He can be reached by phone at (352) 392-1831 or E-mail at rksch@ifas.ufl.edu.

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