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Flamingo flowers are very effective as a natural air purifier.

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In spite of its exotic appearance the flamingo flower is surprisingly low maintenance and it’s not hard to care for as long as you understand its needs. Once you have the plant in the right soil and the right location, watering and feeding is simple. A well-cared for plant, whether it is in your garden or home, will reward you with wonderful, long lasting flowers for many years.  Just one plant can give a room a more tropical feel, so naturally, homeowners are adding this tropical plant to their outdoor rooms as well.

The Anthurium genus contains more than 800 species of plants in the arum family (Aracea) and is native to the tropical rainforests of Central and Southern America, but most flamingo flowers for sale today are hybrid varieties of the species Anthurium andreanum. These rain forest natives of western Colombia and northwest Ecuador grow as under storey epiphytes in the tree canopy and on rocks, and bloom throughout the year.

They may vary in size, but are characterized by their deep green, leathery foliage and heart-shaped flowers, which are not really flowers but rather colourful spathes, a protective sort of leaf that surrounds the plant’s spadix. The yellow spadix which grows out of it will occasionally produce tiny male and female flowers for reproduction. While these true flowers are rarely noticed, it’s the plants colourful spathes which are its main attraction, and plants are available in many sizzling colours like bright red, pink, purple, orange, and white.

These days flamingo flowers have become an international business, but their rise to fame is fascinating and worth telling. In their native habitat they lived undisturbed for hundreds of centuries, and the native peoples may or may not have made a big deal about them because they were much plainer looking than they are today. Then, out of the hundreds of species, one was brought to Hawaii in 1889 by a man named Samuel Damon, an interesting man, and the son of missionaries, who rose to great prominence in the Kingdom of Hawaii as a business man and politician. He started cultivating the plant he had imported in the gardens of his mansion, and from his gardens this beautiful plant was introduced to others who also started growing them in their gardens, and so the flamingo flower spread throughout Hawaii, from garden to garden.

 A big breakthrough occurred a few years later when gardeners learned to propagate these plants by seeds, rather than cuttings. Seed propagation allowed people to selectively breed the flowers with the best traits, resulting in a proliferation of flowers in new shapes and exciting colours. By the 1940s florists in Hawaii began carrying a smattering of these flowers in their shops and they became quite popular with locals and tourists alike. And so an industry was born, with some entrepreneurs expanding their cultivation of anthuriums from their gardens to full scale farms! Initially they grew them under the shade of fruit trees and tree ferns, but as their operations grew, they began raising the plants under structures specifically built for raising these beauties.

Eugene André introduced the anthurium into Trinidad, Tobago, and the rest of the Caribbean in 1915, where they were grown extensively under cocoa and citrus plantations for export, and from 1945 to 1970 cultivation in Trinidad was at its peak with some 80 to 121 hectares planted under tree crops. The largest farm in Trinidad was the Naranjo Estate in the Aripo Valley with approximately 20 hectares under cultivation, with a production of 6 000 saleable cut flowers per week!

By 1959 Hawaii produced 2.6 million flowers and by 1980 production peaked at 2.5 million dozen flowers! Hawaii shipped them world-wide, to Italy, West Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and the U.S mainland. And, the demand was so great that they could not produce enough plants to satisfy local, national, and international demand!

During the 1970’s flamingo flowers began gaining popularity in Europe, and they were cultivated as a cut flower, especially in Holland. By the late 1980’s these new cultivars captured the interest of some enthusiasts, who imported exotic Hawaiian, Dutch and other European anthurium cultivars into Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, where they were grown in shade houses, under high management, primarily for export. These cultivars were exported to the North American market, and Jamaica became the largest exporter into the US in the 1980’s.

Unfortunately, this coincided with the decline of the anthurium industry in Hawaii, triggered by an outbreak of bacterial blight disease. And, just as Jamaica was flourishing, it too was hit by this disease, allowing Trinidad and Tobago to expand their production until they became the largest suppliers to the USA through the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Sadly however, commercial production in Trinidad started to decline by the mid 1990’s, largely due, once again, to bacterial blight and leaf spot diseases. The control of these diseases was difficult and expensive, requiring extra labour and agrochemicals. These, coupled with the high cost of planting material from Holland and the establishment of shade houses, severely affected the industry.

The story of the flamingo flower, however, does have a happy ending and this flower remains popular the world over, and is cultivated and sold as a potted plant as well as for the cut flower industry. Interestingly, a research program which was initiated in Hawaii back in the 1950’s by Dr. Haruyuki Kamemoto, and which led to the development of a breeding program for the commercial development and release of anthuriums to growers, has resulted in the industry thriving in Hawaii today, and the development of additional cultivars for the cut flower industry by breeders in Hawaii and the Netherlands has led to the availability of an assortment of varieties, with red and orange having most importance, followed by other colours such as salmon, cherry, and pink. The top four producers of anthurium cut flowers worldwide today are the Netherlands, Hawaii, Mauritius, and Jamaica, followed by smaller tropical flower producers in the Philippines, Tahiti, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Brazil, Trinidad, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Florida and California

In the Garden & Home:

Who could imagine a home without plants? They make any room more inviting, and they’re also good for your health. It has been scientifically proven that flamingo flowers are very effective as a natural air purifier, scrubbing harmful chemicals and indoor air pollution from homes and offices. So, there are plenty of good reasons to have plants indoors, but flowering plants like the flamingo flower add that little extra 'something' to your home. Their brightly coloured flowers make perfect centrepieces and table-top arrangements, and they grow well on their own or mixed with other bold tropical plants like Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) for a knock-out look.  And, if they like where they are growing, and you treat them right, flamingo flowers can give you pleasure year after year. If you can’t accommodate their needs, treat them as temporary plants to brighten up your indoor space, much like a chrysanthemum, which is discarded once it is finished blooming.

Flamingo flowers are natural choices for tropical and subtropical gardens because of their open, upright and spreading habit of growth. Their relatively coarse texture can be used to great affect against other garden plants with finer foliage. These flowers are also excellent for planting in outdoor containers and hanging baskets, and even if you live in a cold winter region, it would be worthwhile investing in flamingo flowers, even if it’s only to enjoy them for a single summer season.

Last but not least, flamingo flowers in pots make fantastic gifts and are a favourite for Valentine’s Day. They are also very long lasting cut flowers, and a bouquet of them will last for weeks.  

Cultivation/Propagation:

Flamingo flowers need jungle conditions to really flourish and flower well.  They are very sensitive to cold, requiring steady temperatures between 15 and 32°C, when temperatures dip below 15°C plants growing outdoors can be damaged. In addition, they do not tolerate windy areas outdoors. Indoors they require consistently warm temperatures, and an area free of cold draughts, and whether you are growing flamingo flowers indoors or outdoors, it is prudent to bear in mind that they grow best in bright, indirect light and cannot tolerate much direct sunlight, which can burn the leaves. They will even grow in deeper shade, but may not flower as well there.

Abundant water isn’t an issue for these rain forest specimens, but remember, in their jungle habitat they occur naturally in the tree canopy, on rocks, or in areas with well-draining soil, so although their environment may be damp or wet for six to nine months of the year, the drainage is perfect and they are never found in standing in water. To match their natural habitat, they should be watered frequently in the summer and less frequently in the winter.

However, the roots must be able to ‘breathe’ and inadequate drainage will cause root rot and kill the plant very quickly. For this reason, bought specimens are already potted in this type of soil. If you are re-potting into hanging baskets or other containers, or wanting to plant into garden beds which do not have perfect drainage, you may prefer to create your own loose soil mixture by combining 3 parts high-quality potting soil, 2 parts peat moss, 1 part perlite, and 4 parts orchid potting medium that contains charcoal, hardwood and gravel. This mix will also give you the correct pH level for your flamingo flower, of about 6.5. For best result never allow the pH to exceed 7.0.

No matter where your flamingo flowers are growing, only water when the soil is dry to the touch, but when you do water, water deeply, and if they are in pots, ensure that the water drips through the bottom of the pot. If you are unsure when to water, invest in a moisture meter, it takes the guesswork out of gardening.  Also, always use tepid water when watering your plants, especially in cold winter regions.

Flamingo flowers revel in the high humidity found in tropical jungles, where levels often approach 100 percent. The humidity in most homes does not come anywhere near this, so you will have to mist the plant daily with tepid water in a spray bottle to try to simulate this type of microclimate. You should also fill the drip tray with gravel and add water to the tray, but don’t completely cover the gravel. Set the pot on top of the gravel, making sure that the bottom doesn’t come into contact with the water. As the water evaporates from the pan, it will humidify the immediate area around your plant. If time is limited, invest in a room humidifier, they are healthy and always come in handy anyway. As the plant grows and the root level rises, cover the roots and stems with a layer of moss or peat to protect them and maintain moisture.

If somehow you forgot to water and the plant has become completely dry in its pot, growth will slow down and the root-ball will be difficult to re-wet. To rehydrate it, immerse the entire pot in a bucket of water for an hour or so.

Fertilise with care as too much fertiliser will produce lush foliage but no flowers, so feed your flamingo flower sparingly. Use a good liquid fertiliser for blooming plants once monthly, but mix the solution at 20 percent of the manufacturer’s recommendation. Many tropical plants also enjoy an occasional magnesium treat, and your flamingo flower is no exception, so give the plant a little dose of Epsom salt every three or four months by dissolving 1 tablespoon into 1 litre of water and using it for a single watering.

Cutting back is necessary from time to time to keep the plant upright and balanced, and can be done at any time of year.  Allowing older growth to remain on the plant may cause the stem to bend and result in stunted growth, so take a close look at your plant, then begin pruning from the top down. Remove any discoloured or dead leaves, and cut wilted or dead blossoms down to the base of the stem. You can also remove wayward leaves to improve the appearance of the plant, but leave at least three to five in place. If possible, remove older leaves first.

Remove suckers from the base of the plant as they draw energy from the plant, reducing flower size. Trim the suckers away when they are small, because trimming large suckers may damage the base of the plant. Use sharp, good quality cutting tools, as dull blades can tear and crush stems, making the plant more susceptible to diseases and pests. To prevent bacterial infection, wipe cutting tools clean between each cut, using rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach solution.

Repotting should be done only when required, but once a plant is pot bound it should be re-potted immediately, or it may quickly decline and die. However, if your plant is just beginning to look crowded, it’s preferable to wait until new growth emerges in spring. If you aren’t sure if your plant is root bound, look for the following clues: roots circling around the surface of the potting mix or growing through the drainage holes, and wilting foliage, even after watering, is also a sure sign your plant is pot bound.

Water you plant a few hours before repotting and select a new pot one size larger than the current one - never plant into a much larger pot as the roots like to be ‘snug’.  Place a layer of fresh potting soil into the new container, then slide the plant carefully from its current pot. Gently tease the compacted root-ball with your fingers to release the roots before placing the plant in its new pot. Fill in around the root ball with soil, firming it down gently with your fingers. Once re-potted, it’s most important to check that the plant is sitting at the same soil level it was situated in the original pot, because planting the crown of the plant too deeply may cause the plant to rot. Water lightly to settle the soil, and add a little more potting soil if required, before placing the plant in a shady area for a couple of days. Don’t panic if your plant looks a little worse for wear for a few days, slight wilting frequently occurs when re-potting. Do not fertilise for a couple of months to give the plant time to settle into its new pot.

To propagate your flamingo flower, divide or take stem cuttings with two nodes or more. Put the cuttings in water, and about a month later, when the roots have formed, plant out into containers.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If they sit for too long in soggy, wet soil, flamingo flowers are prone to root rot, crown rot and fungal diseases.

Spray all parts of the plant thoroughly with insecticidal soap once a week if you notice aphids, mites, scales, thrips, or mealybugs. Another method for targeting scale is dabbing the insects with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol and wiping them gently with a cloth to remove them from the plant.

Warning:

Many varieties of Anthurium are poisonous or contain oils that can cause minor skin irritations, so wear gloves to protect your hands when trimming. They are also mild to moderately poisonous to cats and dogs. This plant contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals similar to other plants in the Araceae family.  Chewing or biting into this plant will release these crystals causing tissue penetration and irritation the mouth and GI tract. VERY rarely, swelling of the upper airway occurs making it difficult to breathe. Common signs to watch for include: Drooling, pawing at the face or mouth, oral pain and decreased appetite. To be safe, do not plant them in areas frequented by children or pets.

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