Many years ago, my cousin told me an odd advice my aunt had passed on to him. That time, he was about 13 going on 14 soon. This is the age where sooner or later, hormones are discovered and for guys, the allure of girls. She said, “You know, sonny, some girls are like my favourite flowers - the anthuriums. Like that flower, some girls are showy, bold, and that is what makes them beautiful in a way. Their outstanding beauty shines brighter than those shy wallflowers. As beautiful as these flowers are, once you handle this flower wrongly, you get poisoned.”
“Poisoned? Anthuriums are poisonous?”
“Yes. Their sap irritates your eyes and skin once you extract the sap out of the flower. Anthuriums are dangerous because of the presence of a poisonous substance (calcium oxalate crystals) that can produce sores and numbing on ingestion.”
“If you knew they are that dangerous, why do you still cultivate that plant, aunty? Why do you still love that plant of all other – I don’t know – ‘safer’ plants?”
“One day, sonny, you’ll understand that attraction to something or someone cannot be explained. Perhaps you can choose who to love in the end, but attraction… you cannot choose who you get attracted to. Attraction doesn’t follow logic or reason. Attraction is something hard to fight off within for long. In my case, despite knowing its potential toxin, I’m attracted to Anthuriums nonetheless. So long I don’t touch the sap for whatever reason, Anthuriums will serve you well a fine flower for any vase in any room, sonny. Treat someone or something nicely. Don’t go looking for wrong buttons to push at too often. Then, that person or thing will reward you well in return.”
As my cousin and I grew up over the years, we both learnt that Anthuriums has other redeeming factors to make up for its dark secret. Such as the fact that Anthuriums make a wonderful indoor house plant that purifies the air around it. Their large, exotic dark leaves absorb ammonia, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene, so they make a thoughtful present for a workplace, especially around copiers, printers or adhesives. Not bad, eh?
A native to tropical America, Anthurium is a genus of more than 800 species found in the New World tropics from Mexico to northern Argentina and Uruguay. Anthurium’s common English names would be Painted Tongue, Flamingo Flower (Flamingo Lily) or Tail Flower, something my aunt never mentioned or alternatively refer to her Anthuriums. (She supposed ‘Anthurium’ is exotic enough a name.) Even though her Anthuriums are mostly bright red in nature, there are other Anthuriums that have leafy bracts which may be white, yellow, red, pink, orange, purple, maroon-brown or green, as per picture below:
Should any of you consider about how to cultivate this plant, my aunt have these tips as below:
- Wipe its leaves off with water. It will remove any dust and insects on it.
- Remove dead and/or unsightly foliage and faded or brown flowers.
- Anthuriums need a high light but not direct sunlight.
- Water your anthuriums thoroughly, but allow it to dry slightly between waterings.
- Do not over-water the anthuriums as it may cause root damage and yellowing of the leaves.
- Fertilize the anthurium plant about every other month.
- Avoid draughts and strong temperature fluctuations.
- In the case of vining or climbing Anthuriums, the plants benefit from being provided with a totem stake to climb.