The painter’s palette, a tropical gem

Andrew Mangwarara —
NATURE never ceases to amaze, packed within it are some of the most attractive plants. This can be undeniably applied to the likes of anthurium andreanum, commonly called the painter’s palette due to its unique inflorescence shaped like an old paint brush and its palette. The wonderful red colourful blooms add to the charm of the plant. Other species have different coloured blooms in pink, green or white.

This is a South American plant from Colombia, found in the tropical rainforests there. It has become an important indoor and shade plant for the garden.

Being found in humid conditions sheltered under the canopy of trees speaks of its preferences when growing. It needs high humidity and warm temperatures of about 15 to 30 degrees celsius. Anthurium does not like direct sunlight, it must be screened from direct sunrays or else the leaves will be scorched. The painter’s palette is able to grow to about 50cm in height, producing large leaves of about 20cm in diameter.

Position the plant indoors if there is enough light. In our climate, I find it does well on verandas, patios or under shade cloth.

Even before it flowers, which is usually regularly in the tropics, the leaves are a feature in themselves, you can polish them with plain water. The plant requires continuous feeding for it to produce flowers regularly.

You will need a slow release fertiliser such as compound D but in minute quantities. You can also change the compost frequently. Misting daily prolongs the blooms as well as snaps the central flower.

Allow the compost to dry out between watering but try to keep it moist most times. However, water more in summer than in winter. If the plant has developed some aerial roots, mist these frequently.  For your pot plants, keep some water in the trays to maintain humidity. Occasional application of magnesium rich fertiliser helps it flourish, about half-a-teaspoon in each pot (once a month).

Re-potting is highly recommended once the roots have filled the pot. This you can check by removing the plant briefly from the pot. Propagation is by means of dividing the mature plants or taking stem cuttings.

Cuttings can be planted in river sand or water until they root away from direct sunlight. Anthurium has a lot of potential as a cut flower as the cut blooms can last for up to three weeks. The plant, however, has some toxicity so it should not be consumed by pets or children.

If flowers are few in between then the light is inadequate, expose the plant to more light. Scorched leaves indicate that direct sunlight is burning the leaves or it is a case of over fertilisation, which is more prominent on the lower leaves.

Some common pests such as aphids, thrips, scale and red spidermites need to be monitored and sprayed accordingly.

Bacterial infections can occur and appear as lesions on the leaves so remove affected leaves, spraying with a bactericide such as copper oxychloride. Fungal infestations show themselves as spots, blight and root rot. It is usually a case of over watering and infected soil.

Sterilise your soil medium and use clean plant material. A little attention to detail can reward you as you look after this plant. It will also help you clean the air in your house.

The painter’s palette, a tropical gem of note. Happy gardening!

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