Anthuriums are monocots which exhibit a wide variety growth habits and fill a range of niches in a diverse array of habitats. They grow mostly as epiphytes in the tropics of the new world but also may be found as terrestrials and lithophytes in habitats which range from high altitude cloud forest to habitats approaching desert. Some are only found growing in association with arboreal ant nests, others are found only on boulders in the middle of mountain streams. They occur from northern Mexico and the Greater Antilles to southern Brazil and northern Argentina and Paraguay from lower to middle elevations with diversity reaching a fever pitch in Panama, Columbia and Ecuador. The very wet mountain ranges in these countries provide the perfect combination of rain, variation in altitude and habitat for evolution to perform its mastery on this genus.

anthurium habitat, Ecuador
Anthurium sp. and Philodendron sp. side by side in Ecuador.
photo by Neil Carroll

Floral expression in the aroid family is the spathe and spadix. The spathe being a modified bract, which subtends the spadix, and the spadix which consists of tightly packed rows of flowers arranged in spirals. In Anthurium these flowers are perfect, containing both male and female flower parts and each capable of forming a berry containing one to multiple seeds. In many other aroid genera the flowers are separated on the spadix into male flowers, female flowers and sometimes sterile flowers. The spathe can take on many shapes and colors from the large, bright red spathe of Anthurium andreanum and Anthurium scherzerianum to plain green and thin, reflexed, twisted, coiled, wide or narrow and sometimes forming something of an umbrella to protect the spadix from rainfall in particularly wet regions. They can be purple, green, white, red, orange, speckled, striped, streaked and suffused. The spadix can take on many shapes and colors too... club shaped, tapered, spiraled, and globose are just a few. Colors include purple, red, pink, white, green, and combinations of colors. The spadix color of many species also may change during its growth and development, for example changing from yellow to green as it progresses through anthesis.

The flowers of Anthurium also exhibit a wide range of fragrances.Though not as specific in their pollinator needs as, say, orchids, different species of Anthurium still attract a certain class of pollinator.A spadix with a dark purple or dark maroon spadix may smell of fermenting grapes attracting many types of gnats and flies. Others smell of eucalyptus or camphor many have smells resembling various solvents, attracting euglosine bees and other insects lured to sweet or 'spicy' smells.

Anthurium occupies a great many habitats and environments. Consequently, Anthurium has evolved a great many growth habits and a great many leaf shapes. "Birdsnest" shaped rosettes with antigravitropic roots have developed methods of collecting debris and guiding water to the roots. The birdsnest habit is designed well to collect water in a water sparse environment and is thus often found in species which occur in drier climates, on rock faces, or perched on a tree in the forest. Cordate or heart-shaped leaves of many varieties may grow as terrestrials or epiphytes. There are vines, with long internodes, and tight rosettes of paddle or lanceolate shaped leaves. Some leaves grow very long in relation to their width and form long "straps" which hang gracefully from tree limbs, some with their growth tips growing straight down! Tri-lobed and poly lobed species are well represented in the genus also.

As a cultivated plant, Anthurium does not seem to enjoy the popularity that its cousins, Philodendron, do. Philodendrons grow faster and have a much more narrow set of cultural requirements than does Anthurium. Anthurium, as a genus, occupies more diverse habitat than does Philodendron in terms of elevation and habitat type. Thus the cultural requirements of Anthurium can vary from species to species. It becomes necessary to become familiar with particular species requirements and stick to those, much in the way orchid growers either specialize in one group of orchids or devote much study to growing a variety of types.

Where you live and how you grow your plants has a great deal to do with what species of Anthurium you might grow. People who live in southern Florida, and the southeast coast of the USA must be careful of trying to grow Anthurium from high altitudes, its simply too hot in these areas.

Most species enjoy and/or require high humidity, making greenhouse culture ideal for most. But, just as for other humidity loving plants, many Anthuriums are suited very well to home conditions and with a little attention can grow into fine specimens.

Anthurium is a genus well worthy of culture weather on a window sill or greenhouse in temperate areas of the world or as landscape subjects in the tropics or subtropics.

Copyright © 2007 by Neil Carroll. All rights reserved.