Wonderful World of Aroids

miniature AnthuriumImagine walking into your back yard and seeing a plant with a foot-long purple flower. Upon closer inspection, your delight in this discovery is tempered by the flower’s smell, a malodorous scent that attracts flies. Still, you are curious about the plant and decide to find out more about it.
Gayla Sullivan of North Hills described the above experience to me just the other day. After doing some research on the Internet, she identified her mysterious plant as a voodoo lily. Unlike the voodoo religion, which is of African origin, voodoo lilies are native to tropical Asia.
Voodoo lilies are not true lilies but belong to the Arum family, or aroids. If you ever had an indoor plant, whether on your office desk or over the kitchen sink, there is a good chance it was an aroid.
Aroids include philodendrons, anthuriums, aglaonemas, caladiums, spathiphyllums and dieffenbachias. Pothos or devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), whose leaves are heart-shaped and colored green and yellow or green and white, is the most widely grown aroid, possessing the status of America’s favorite house plant. With occasional fertilization and weekly watering, pothos grows right out of the pot and will trail across your desk or down the side of your bookcase.
One of the most popular shade-loving plants in Valley gardens is the calla lily. The calla lily is the quintessential representative of the aroid group on account of its unmistakable spadix and spathe, the ornamental “flower complex” found in all aroids. The spadix, a golden yellow spike in the case of the calla lily, is surrounded by a pure white modified leaf known as a spathe.
Calla lilies thrive even in poor-quality soil and do not require fertilization when garden grown. The key to keeping calla lily plants looking good is to prune out all leaves and flowers as soon as they begin to bend. Calla lilies spread quickly by means of fleshy underground stems known as rhizomes.
The calla lily’s spathe is white, but aroid spathes can appear in other colors as well, depending on the plant. The calla lily variety “Green Goddess” has white spathes flushed with green. The black calla (Arum palaestinum) has deep purple spathes.
The flamingo lily (Anthurium Andraeanum), another popular indoor plant, probably has the most memorable spathe; it is flat, heart-shaped, pink or red in color, with a shiny vinyl texture. They seem to be in bloom nearly all the time and miniature cultivars, in sun-protected locations, can even be used for ground cover.
The spathes of voodoo lilies can appear in almost any color. Voodoo lilies that grow from tubers (Sauromatum species) have greenish yellow spathes that are spotted purple; voodoo lilies that grow from corms (Amorphophallus species) have pink, red, or purple spathes.
Corms are generally thought of as unspectacular underground storage organs found in a limited number of garden ornamentals, including gladiolus. Voodoo lily corms, by contrast, can grow as large as basketballs and weigh up to 100 pounds. These corms are edible and, in India and Indonesia, are used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes.
Voodoo lilies send up their briefly blooming flowers, which are up to 6 feet long in some species, each spring. After the flowers fade, striking umbrella-like leaves unfold atop 3-foot stalks. These leaf stalks are typically spotted and either velvet smooth or prickly to the touch.
Plant Delights Nursery has a Web page with pictures of several voodoo lilies (www.plantdel.com). Voodoo lilies and other exotic plants may be ordered from this site. The nursery, located in Raleigh, N.C., can be reached by phone at (919) 772-4794.
–A correspondent named Tobi, who lives near the coast, e-mailed concerns about planting on a slope. Tobi is worried that cultivation of her slope will lead to erosion and wants to know what planting strategies to employ.
Having witnessed Cal-Trans crews planting freeway embankments over the years, it is apparent that the simplest and most effective way of landscaping a slope is to disturb it only where plants are to be placed and to mulch all the soil in between to keep down the weeds.
On a slope, plants should be installed straight up, never leaning away from the slope. Build a half-doughnut of earth known as a berm on the downslope side of each plant. Without berms, irrigation water runs down the slope before it can soak into the root balls of the freshly planted specimens. You do not need to cover every inch of a slope with groundcover to prevent erosion. Individual plants, especially those with strong root systems such as ceanothus, coyote brush and rosemary, will develop deep and wide root systems that will hold soil in place many feet distant from where the planting holes are dug. Casual observation of the chaparral slopes surrounding the Valley demonstrates how well-spaced plants and trees, especially California natives, do a fine job of holding a slope in place.
< TIP OF THE WEEK The soaker hose, made of recycled tires, is an excellent device for watering slopes, narrow flower beds and other areas where wasteful or eroding overspray of conventional sprinklers is a concern. Since a soaker hose leaks water all along its length, it is especially useful in new plantings where rapid growth of lateral roots is desired. A soaker hose is useful for establishing a landscape of California trees and shrubs, which can develop stem lesions when watered with overheadsprinklers. Once the natives have established themselves and do not require supplemental irrigation, the soaker hose may be removed. The soaker hose is also recommended in rose gardens where foliar fungus diseases, encouraged by overhead sprinklers, are a problem. Soaker hoses are available at most nurseries and garden center

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