University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor
University of Vermont

The flamingo flower comes by this name from its traditionally pink to red flowers.  It often just goes by its scientific genus name (Anthurium).  Attractive, long lasting flowers in many colors that are produced throughout the year, attractive leaves that are easy to clean, easy care, and few problems make this a top houseplant for most situations.
Anthurium (said as an-THUR-ee-um) comes from the Greek words for flower (anthos) and tail (oura), the latter referring to the central part of the flowers resembling a tail.  Similar to the peace lily (Spathiphyllum), it is in the Arum family.  One characteristic of these plants are the unique flowers, composed of an outer shell or hood (the “spathe”, really a “bract” or modified leaf) and inner stalk of densely-packed flowers (the “spadix”).  While the spadix is usually straight, you can find selections in which it is curved or twisted. 
With anthurium, the spathe has a waxy texture, is glossy, flattened or reflexed backward slightly, and often is of the same color as the spadix.  The spadix can be a contrasting color such as white or yellow—attractive against the shiny background of the spathe.  The latter can come in most shades of reds or pinks, and even might be seen from creamy pink to reddish orange, or combinations of white and green or pink and green. 
Another characteristic of this family is that plants contain calcium oxalate crystals, which make them harmful if parts are chewed.  These caused intense oral and throat irritation or burning and difficulty swallowing.  So keep them away from pets or children that are prone to sampling houseplants.
Being native to tropical areas of South America, anthuriums grow best with warmth and humidity.  Ideally they prefer above 70 degrees (F), perhaps warmer during the day.  They’ll grow at cooler temperatures, just more slowly.  Keep above 50 degrees though, as leaves likely will turn yellow below this.  They don’t tolerate temperatures near freezing.
To increase humidity in our typically dry interiors, you can use a humidifier nearby, or place plants on a tray of pebbles that are kept moist.  A great location for them and higher humidity is in brightly lit kitchens and bathrooms. 
Don’t place anthuriums in direct sunlight or the leaves may burn, making discolored or brown areas.  Keep in as much indirect light, though, as possible.  Artificial and plant lights can be used to supplement, or even replace, natural light. Too little light and plants will grow slowly, and may not bloom. 
Water anthuriums well, but let them dry out slightly between watering.  Don’t let them sit in saucers of water, nor allow roots and potting soil to remain waterlogged.  Leaves suddenly yellowing may indicate too much water, while leaves turning black at the tips may indicate soils are too dry.  Plants wilting, even though the soil is wet, may indicate overwatering and root rots.
Anthuriums don’t need much fertilizer, perhaps half the strength and intervals recommended on fertilizer products.  If foliage is lush but there are no blooms, they may be getting too much fertilizer.  If plants are large and you need to divide or repot them, use a soilless medium such as one containing peat moss, pine bark, and perlite.
Few pests bother anthuriums.  The main ones to watch for are brown scales and white mealybugs.  Both can be scrubbed off lightly with a brush, and soap and water.  This also helps keep the heart-shaped leaves shiny and glossy, free from dust.  Even if no pests, wipe leaves periodically with a wet cloth to remove any dust.
One problem in many modern interiors, particularly new ones and ones with little fresh outside air coming in, is air pollution from chemicals in our environment.  These come from many sources, such as paints, new carpets, furniture finishes and ingredients, and electronics.  In a study conducted some years ago by NASA, several houseplants were found to rid air of such pollutants.  Anthurium, specifically, was found to filter air of formaldehyde, xylene, and ammonia.  The NASA study recommends at least one plant in every hundred square feet of interior space.
Most anthurium potted plants are started or grown in Florida. You’ll also see them as a cut flower, many of these coming from Hawaii.  They make long-lasting cut flowers, from two to four weeks before fading. Longest life comes from replacing vase water every few days, recutting a half-inch off the stem bottom each time, using a floral preservative (available from florists and garden stores), and keeping them in a warm room.  If you don’t have a floral preservative, an alternative is to add one part lemon-lime soda (the kind with sugar) to three parts water, plus a few drops of bleach.  This provides food for the flowers, and the bleach helps keep bacteria from growing.
Whether your décor is of an earlier era, such as Victorian times when these first became quite popular, or contemporary, this elegant and easy-care houseplant has a place.     

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