These curious-looking plants have an addictive appeal
Warning: Aroid can form habits.
Recently, the next generation gardeners with aroid tattoos have appeared at Nursery Plant Delights open houses in North Carolina, which Tony Avent, founder of the nursery, attributes to the current homegrown craze.
It’s not exactly that Mr. Avent is in the household goods business. These first-time visitors are shopping for the outdoor relatives of their leafy indoor roommates, their beloved Swiss (Monstera) cheese factory, the Philodendron, and the chickens.
They’re in his nursery asking about other aroids, an urge he can understand.
Avent met the first member of his Arum family, a jack-in-the-pocket (Arisaema) native to the Southeast, while exploring the North Carolina jungle as a child. Now, Arisaema and its cousins are among the specialties at his nursery in Raleigh, NC, which has been running for its 36th year.
Although his new client was older than Mr. Avent when he was attracted, the attraction is the same: Here are some very strange-looking creatures.
“These new gardeners want something more than their grandmother’s flower garden,” he said. “I always say that a great way to get young people interested in gardening is to get them started using experimental planes, because they are so quirky, like something out of a set. horror film.”
The Araceae are a family of about 3,700 species, distributed almost worldwide but mostly from tropical environments. What its members have in common is the basic structure of their flower heads, or inflorescences: a flower with thorns (in Arisaema’s case, it’s a plug) inside a proboscis (podium), a bract may be brightly colored but not always. hooded or like podium. The familiar red anthurium is not.
The flowers of an aroid are small and grow in tight clusters like the seeds on a flower, and each flower is unisexual – male or female. Whatever the overall size, shape or color of the flower, it all adds up to not your average bloom.
There are also underwater Aroids
You may already be an accidental aroid collector, and not just houseplants (a group that includes not only the aforementioned Monstera, Philodendron, and potholes, but also Spathiphyllum, Aglaonema, Syngonium, and many others).
A patchy groundcover arum plant like Arum italicum may be in your garden. Or maybe you grow one of several native Arisaema species, or one of the widely chosen species from Asia, some of which are known as king cobras, because of their snake-shaped branches.
Most of us have grown lilies (Zisedeschia aethiopica) or Caladium at one point or another. And few gardeners have escaped the lure of the increasingly wide selection of elephant-eared species (Alocasia and Colocasia). They Ray, all.
Perhaps most surprising: The duckweed (small Lemna) floating around in your water garden is an aroid, although a powerful handheld lens is required to create its floral parts.
It is not the only native aquatic aroid. Water arum (Calla palustris) is found in northern locations; gold club (Orontium aquum) is more common. Two species of skunk cabbage – Lysichiton americanum in the west and Symplocarpus foetidus in the east – grow in swampy, marshy places.
For spots with moist soil or shallow standing water, consider the dark, tropical-looking leaves of green arrowroot (Peltandra virginica), a native plant that he considers rare, says Avent. used by gardeners.
Tubers (Keep some in your drawer)
The next logical step, Avent suggests, is to try some tubers: Arisaema, callas, caladium and elephant ear, as well as the less familiar voodoo lilies.
Voodoo lilies include figures such as Sauromatum venosum and Amorphophallus konjac, at least Zone 6a, and the 5b-hardy arum dragon (Dracunculus vulgaris). Both can add unexpected tropical texture to a temperate shade garden, or can be displayed in pots.
Years ago, I was so daring when Mr. Avent told me that voodoo lilies are so accommodating that I could overwrite lightbulb-like pieces in my sock drawer if they weren’t stiff. to this extent. (I use a cellar instead.)
Of course, I’m an easy-going person, having spent years staring at the majestic dark purple Dracunculus engraving that hangs across from my desk. From the series “The Temple of Flora” by various artists, it was published by Robert John Thornton in homage to the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, in 1801. But the records Writings from the time of the pharaohs of Egypt and the ancient Greeks show that aroids have intrigued mankind for much longer than that.
And not just because of their flower heads. Other parts of the aroid can also swell quite a bit – it’s not surprising when you consider that the indoor parts of an aroid often attract us with just their leaves.
A few favorites: Sauromatum’s leaflets, strung together in a horseshoe like so many green pennants, are held aloft by eye-catching freckled petioles. And the leaves have an even more texture than that of the neem tree, perched on a bluish-pink stem.
You charming beasts
If their looks aren’t distinctive enough to tempt you, aroids are also some beasts of charm. Wildest: In an almost animal-like manner, the spadix of certain species, including the Oriental mink cabbage, is thermogenic. Thermogenesis helps the plant melt the snow, promoting early bloom.
“It’s as if they’re saying, ‘We’re ready to attract insects to pollinate us, so turn on the stove,'” Mr Avent said.
Heat can also help evaporate fragrance molecules. In the eight-foot-tall titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) tree from Sumatra, Indonesia, that’s meant to freshen the air for a day with the alluring scent of sugar orchid. What better way to invite a fly or beetle to an intimate meeting?
That giant plant, endangered in the wild, has drawn visitors to the botanical garden’s sanctuaries, where it is grown not only for display but as part of conservation efforts. off-site, or off-site. Non-profit organization Juniper Level Botanical Garden which Mr. Avent established on 28 acres of land around Plant Delights – which has 28,000 taxa, including 2,099 aroid – as part of the effort. And the nursery has bred and sold about 1,000 young titan arums, presumably to those with high ceilings, if not a proper conservationist. (How to grow this tree.)
In certain aroids, an extended ramp greets the pollinator. A long tail can extend from the tip of the spathe or spadix, “a guide to the flower they land on, then crawl into the food,” Mr. Avent said.
Other strokes of genius are named for the enduring, resilient gene pool: Multiple flowers in the same cluster of trees can mess up their bloom times, creating better opportunities for males and females. female and pollination can occur.
And most Arisaema species, including the great-striped Japanese cobra (A. ringens), change sex within a few years. They conserve resources by being male (and only producing pollen) when young or under stress, and produce female flowers (which then bear fruit and seeds) when the strength of the plant allows.
“Anyone who thinks nature isn’t smarter than us hasn’t been looking at things like pollinator biology,” said Mr. Avent.
Elephant ears, reimagined
Mr. Avent and I have dug the hole long enough to remember when “elephant ears” only meant a few green leaf selections. The wide variety of plants available today include those with green, yellow and purple leaves that are shiny and translucent, and some that are patchy, patterned, or bordered in contrasting colors.
Part of that change stemmed from a chance meeting in 2003 with a university breeder of one of the oldest domesticated food crops, taro (Colocasia esculenta). Mr. Avent was on vacation in Hawaii, where he met John Cho, a pathologist who was breeding taro for disease resistance rather than looks.
But in the colorful and deliciously speckled variety of Dr. Cho’s genetics, Mr Avent saw great decorative potential – a part of the Colocasia market that Dr Cho was unfamiliar with, but within which he became a real force.
Looking ahead in Aroids
Turns out, my favorite Sauromatum venosum mushroom species, which occurs naturally from India to Africa, displays a wide variety of colors. In India, spadix is purple; In Ethiopia, it is yellow. And some are even turquoise, Avent said.
“Whenever you have a plant with such a native variety, there are a lot of possibilities,” he says, predicting groundbreaking colors for gardeners will not be long in coming.
Other projects: To make the neem tree more welcoming in the home, work is underway with species that don’t have an offensive odor. He also wants to change their common name, voodoo lilies.
“Let’s call them love lilies,” he suggested, freely explaining the first syllable of Nua. (Actually, the genus name translates as phallus with a malformed shape. Not as appealing.)
Mr. Avent also wants to increase the availability of good hybrids of the Asian Pinellia, “like the butterfly pea flowers that bloom all summer,” he said. The Polly Spout and Purple Dragon varieties don’t sow indiscriminately like some Pinellia varieties, but are currently very hard to find.
The difficulty in different locations is also changing – as breeding evolves and as more people (with tattoos and others) try to develop aroids in more places.
“When we started with Nua tree 40 years ago, no one would have said, ‘This is hard to do – ‘” said Mr. Avent. “Much of what we learned about aroid was sharing stories and connecting online. That’s how we rewrite the reference books.”
Margaret Roach is the creator of the website and podcast A Way to Gardenand a book of the same name.