Titan Arums and Other Aroids

When it comes to indoor plants, one plant family (Araceae) is seen almost everywhere.  Known as aroids or arums, members of the family including devil’s ivy or pothos, philodendron, Dieffenbachia, Nephthytis or Syngonium, Caladium, and Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema).   Some aroids, especially elephant ear philodendrons, calla lilies, and voodoo lilies, may be grown outdoors as well.

Amorphophallus titanum, courtesy Huntington Gardens

There are several local celebrity aroids known as titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum) on display at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino.  They happen to be in throes of a rare blooming event and you can visit huntington.org/corpseflower to follow their progress.  Titan arums produce the tallest unbranched inflorescences of any plant, reaching 10 feet in their native Sumatra.  A sheath known as a spathe encloses a columnar spadix to which female and male flowers are attached.  Once the burgundy spathe is unfurled, the flowers emit a malodorous carrion scent — explaining the corpse flower appellation — that attracts pollinating flies and beetles.  Titan arums grow from bulb-like corms which can weigh as much as 300 pounds.

Although titan arums are not found in the nursery trade, their voodoo lily cousins (various Amorphophallus and Typhonium species) are widely available through Internet vendors.  In the manner of bulb and bulb-like plants in general, you don’t need to do much in the way of care other than wait for growth to come back each year.  I once received a report from Kathy Kravitz, a gardener in Winnetka, who described a voodoo lily plant that had re-emerged annually for fifteen years, although it had flowered only once.  Carrion flowers and voodoo lilies have a reputation for irregular flowering, taking as long as ten years between blooming events, which last for only a couple of days.
Yet at least one arum — the peace lily or Spathiphyllum — is highly dependable when it comes to flowering.  I am always flabbergasted this time of year by the sudden appearance of glorious white spathes from peace lilies.  The plant asks for nothing during the warm season other than a good soaking once a week and then suddenly it starts to give you these uncanny spathes which you don’t feel you deserve because, for months and months, you barely noticed the plant associated with them.
You can grow Spathiphyllums outdoors in protected locations.  They may burn somewhat in the winter but overhead tree branches or patio awnings will provide an extra measure of heat that will save them from freezing on most, if not all, Los Angeles winter nights.
Another arum that appears this time of year in protected outdoor locations is Anthurium, easily recognized by its vinyl textured, heart-shaped spathes usually in red or pink but occasionally in white, too.  Also generally regarded as an indoor plant, I have seen it develop unscathed in alcove planters.  As an indoor plant, Anthurium is the only species I know that flowers non-stop as long as you fertilize each time you water but weakly.  That is, apply a liquid fertilizer at 20 percent of the recommended dose whenever you water.
Before leaving the arums, two robust members deserve mention.  One is Philodendron ‘Xanadu,’ a stalwart foliage plant for the shade where you want nothing more than decorous green foliage with deeply, yet softly, lobed leaf margins.  And then there is the cally lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), a durable addition to any dappled shade or partial sun garden.  White calla lily  spreads by rhizomes so that, even though it disappears in hot weather, it will come back stronger than ever next time around.  However, those colorful calla lilies, although they look great in pots at the nursery, are not suitable for gardengrowing.
Tip of the Week:  Chuck Torres, a bonsai grower from Mission Viejo, wondered about resources for assistance in keeping his 20 year old miniature botanical masterpiece in top condition.  In the Valley, for all things bonsai (in Japanese, bon = tray, sai = planting), the place to visit is Fuji  Bonsai Nursery (818-367-5372), located at 13170 Glenoaks Blvd. in Sylmar, open 9:00 – 4:30, Monday – Saturday, with regular classes for all levels, including beginners.
There is also a bonsai club that meets the third Thursday of each month (excluding August and December) at 7:00 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Arboretum (626-821-3222), located at 301 North Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia.

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