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How to grow anthurium or Boy Flowers

An anthurium or Boy Flower.

While some people give red roses as a lovers gift some are a bit more mischievous and give anthuriums instead. Anthuriums are also known as Boy Flowers because the “flower” of the plant has a resemblance to male anatomy. Other common names for the anthurium include Flamingo flower and Tail flower. Anthuriums may be found as potted plants around Valentine’s Day (and at other times) or the flowers may be found in distinctive floral arrangements. In the language of flowers the anthurium flower is said to mean hospitality.

There are more than 130 species of anthuriums but few are found in cultivation. Two species of anthuriums; Flamingo Flower (Anthurium scherzianum) and Painter's Palette (Anthurium andreanum) and some hybrids of these are sold as flowering houseplants. Some species of anthuriums are also used as foliage plants in the homes and greenhouses of collectors who can afford the pricy and finicky plants. Florida and the Netherlands produce most of the flowering potted anthuriums.

Hawaii produces great quantities of cut anthuriums for the florist trade, varieties with large flowers and strong stems. In Hawaii some gardeners also grow various species of anthuriums outside. Hawaii greenhouses and nurseries also produce many of the foliage species of anthuriums that collectors covet.

Boy Flower anatomy

The anthurium “flower” is actually a modified leaf, or bract. In most species it is an elongated heart or hood shape and is colored red or orange in color. This bract is called a spathe. Species of cultivated anthuriums have now been developed that have pink, yellow, purple, white and variegated spathes but red is still the most popular. The spathe is thick with a waxy, shiny look that looks almost artificial.

At the base of the spathe a long spike called a spadix pokes upward. The spadix is closely packed with the tiny true flowers of the anthurium. These flowers have both male and female parts. Spadix flowers are usually yellow or white. Each flower will eventually turn into a fleshy berry with two seeds inside.

Anthurium foliage is also attractive. The leaves are heart shaped, deep green and shiny in the species kept as flowering houseplants. But some rarer anthuriums have velvety leaves, or broader leaves marked with beautiful vein patterns. Most of the foliage anthuriums are difficult to grow in normal household conditions and require a greenhouse and dedicated gardener.

Growing conditions

Most anthuriums come from tropical areas of Central and South America. They are often epiphytes or “air” plants in nature although some species grow in the ground. Most species are sprawling or vine-like. The anthuriums cultivated as houseplants are grown in a coarse, well drained media in pots.

If kept in good light, warm, lightly fertilized and watered correctly anthuriums will actually bloom for long periods or if in perfect conditions almost continuously. They can be a bit tricky as a houseplant and are not for those indoor gardeners who practice benign neglect.

The suggested medium for anthuriums in cultivation is equal parts of peat, perlite and shredded bark. A potting mix for orchids will work. (In Hawaii anthuriums are sometimes grown in macadamia nut hulls. ) Plants should be kept slightly root bound, which means the pot should not be much bigger than the root system. When you buy a potted anthurium it will probably not need re-potting for a year or two.

Anthuriums need bright but indirect light. They will flourish in an east window or a few inches from south or west windows. Strong direct sun will burn the leaves. They must be kept above 65 degrees F. for good flowering but below 90 degrees F. Keep them out of drafts. Plants need to be kept above 45 degrees F. to survive.

Humidity is essential to flowering and good looking foliage in anthuriums. If you don’t use a humidifier in the home the anthurium pot should probably be set over a tray of water and misted frequently. But while they like humidity they absolutely cannot stand over watering. They should be watered well and then allowed to dry out just slightly but not to the point of wilting, before watering again. Brown ends on the foliage and flower spathe mean the humidity is too low or that you are over or under watering.

Anthuriums require light but continuous fertilization to bloom. Slow release fertilizer is usually incorporated into commercial potting mixes that plants are potted in for sale and so you probably won’t need to fertilize for a month after purchase. After that you can use a fertilizer with a low nitrogen ratio such as 7-9-5 either in a slow release granular form or as a liquid at every other watering. Many growers suggest a flowering houseplant fertilizer mixed at half strength.

The Flamingo Flower or Painter’s Palette anthriums get about 2 foot high and wide at maturity. These species or similar hybrids are relatively easy to find in places that sell potted house plants. Make sure they are well protected from the cold as you transport them home. Other species of anthuriums can be found in specialty stores and catalogs but can be very expensive.

Anthurium plant parts are poisonous and handling the plants may also give some people a rash.

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