In 2020 and then through 2021, I’ve been acquiring more and more of the velvet-leaf Anthuriums that I love. By now, I have several species, duplicates of a couple, and they have been reaching a size and maturity where they’ll bloom.
The crazy thing is, while there are tons of videos of people collecting pollen and telling you how easy it is to collect and freeze and then use – it’s never been that easy for me. In 2021, most videos or information I found about pollinating your Anthuriums by hand were from people just as new to the hobby as I was, with just as sparse of a background in botany. Most videos that I could find didn’t show the success of the collected pollen on blooms afterward, which made me suspicious.
I’ll freely admit I am not the biggest fan of using YouTube as a resource for plant care; like many social media platforms, it’s far too easy to fake it.
I’ve had plenty of flowers to try collecting pollen from, and still have yet to successfully collect and use that pollen to fertilize another Anthurium flower. Whomp whomp.
However. I have had a surprising amount of success with a very, very low-tech method.
At left is the video I took for Instagram of how I pollinated my Anthurium magnificum last fall.
As noted in the video captions, this method also worked quite well for my forgetii x forgetii flowers, and for now, since it works, I’ll stick to it.
The trouble with this method is it requires having two flowers at the right stages of blooming to successfully pollinate. Anthuriums have a unique blooming process that is genuinely fascinating to observe, should you get the chance.
I’ll detail what I know about velvet-leaf Anthurium blooms below, and bookmark this page to check back regularly. I’ll be adding day by day photos of my latest Anthurium magnificum bloom going through all of its stages, from first emerging from the spathe through to final pollen production. If I’m lucky, I’ll successfully pollinate it with pollen from my crystal x magnificum.
Flower Anatomy 101
Before talking about the flowering for Anthuriums, it helps to know a bit about how flowers work in the first place.
Plants can be boys, girls, or both at the same time. The flowers they produce can be male, female, both at once, both at different times, or have male and female flowers on the same plant.
“Perfect” flowers are those with both the male and female parts.
The diagram at right shows a highly stylized version of a perfect flower. The female part is the stigma, which passes the pollen down to the ovule (egg/seed) through the style.
The male part is the anther, which sits on top of a filament. There’s typically numerous anthers compared to a single stigma.
Nearly all flowers have some form of these parts, although they may not always look like what we think of as a “typical flower”.
Anthuriums make it weird.
Anthurium flowers are not quite perfect, but rather, are bisexual – while a perfect flower typically is receptive to pollen and produces it at the same time, a bisexual flower goes in phases. Our lovely Anthuriums are girls first, and usually once they’re no longer receptive, they’ll become boys and produce pollen.
I’m drastically over-simplifying this, as I am not a botanist, but I’ve sat through several lectures and read a few papers.
Anthuriums have over 3000 species in their genus, and an incredibly variable flowering phase. I’m focusing here on the ground-dwelling, velvet-leaf Anthuriums such as Anthurium clarinervium, A. forgetii, A. magnificum, or A. crystillanium. The tree-dwelling, epiphytic species seem to have a different mechanism with curving, spiral flowers and I haven’t personally had much experience with those.
Stage 1: Emerge
There’s at least a couple weeks, if not longer, where the first sign of the bloom coming is a small little bud that stretches toward the nearest light source before beginning to open.
The main body of the flower is the “spadex”, which is the almost fleshy center spike. This is where all the action will happen. The outer covering is the spathe, a single petal that may be a precursor to modern flowers with petals all around the center sexual organs.
The spadex will emerge, slowly, and is different sizes and shapes depending on species. At left is an Anthurium clarinervium beginning to emerge; these are one of the smaller blooms.
Stage 2: Female Phase
Once the flower emerges and the spadex has developed outside of the spathe adequately, the flower will enter the female phase. The length of this phase can vary significantly between species, with some only lasting a few days while others will hang out for weeks.
The female phase is characterized by the production of stigmatic fluid: a thick, viscuous liquid that is not the same as nectar (although some anthuriums do produce a tiny amount of nectar).
Stigmatic fluid helps the pollen adhere to the stigma of the spadex, ensuring successful pollination. In the wild, at this phase beetles, weevils, or similar small insects may begin showing up at the flower – they actually eat the pollen of the male phase, but will often leave one flower to visit another in anticipation of more pollen. Based on the aroid talk I attended, presented by Marc Gibernau, these various insects that visit the spadex can range from being pollinators to predators based on the presence of other possible pollinators.
A neat fact I learned from his presentation is that in the wild, some anthuriums are used by their native bee species as “perfume flowers” that they will visit and annoint themselves with to attract female bees. In anthurium species where a scent is present on the spadex, bees are the most likely pollinator, with curculionidae (weevils) being potential predators of the flower. When bees do not attend to the anthurium bloom, it’s likely that the weevils serve as pollinators.
With 3,000 species in the genus, it’s hardly surprising that there’s such diversity in their pollinators, or that an insect can be both predator and pollinator depending on other environmental pressures!
Stage 3: Male Phase
Typically, a flower will mature from bottom to top. This means the bottom of the spadex will enter female phase and produce stigmatic fluid first, moving up the spadex until it reaches the tip. Then, the bottom of the spadex will enter male phase first, also moving up the bloom until it reaches the top.
Each spot where a drop of stigmatic fluid was produced will have a set of 3 to 5 anthers emerge around the center stigma, and a day or two after initially showing, they will begin to produce pollen.
Even if fertilized, the male phase still occurs, and the spadex will often turn a different color – in the A. magnificum at left, their blooms turn yellow during the male phase.
The male phase typically lasts 2 to 3 times as long as the female phase, but I will say on my successfully pollinated plants, I’ve noticed a less prominent male phase and that it seems shorter than the non-pollinated plant. My sample size is quite limited being that it’s just my personal collection that I can observe, so take that with a grain of salt.
Stage 4: Die or Become a Fruit
After several days or even weeks of the flower being receptive or producing pollen, the flower with either wither and die, or begin to develop into a fruit.
It’s important to fertilize your plant regularly throughout the bloom cycle, and especially so when it is developing the fruit. You shouldn’t over do it, but a consistent fertilization schedule will help ensure your anthurium has the necessary nutrients easily at its disposal to produce a large, fertile fruit.
Dying flowers often darken, turning red or black, but if there was successful pollination the fruit changes color from the bloom to a greenish hue as it plumps up and grows. At right are two A. magnificum blooms, one fertilized, one dying.
Ripe Fruits Produce Berries
Anthuriums produce fruits from their flowers, and the fruits take the form of tightly packed berries, similar in shape, size, and color to a pomegranate berry.
When ripe, you’re able to gently squeeze out the berries and/or seeds from the fruit for processing and preparation.
It’s essential that you do not let Anthurium seeds dry out! They need to stay moist to grow, and this is why you should be enormously cautious ordering seeds from abroad. You’ll see seeds offered by US growers as berries (where it’s possible to harvest just the berries and ship those), or as seeds that are shipped in containers with damp sphagnum moss.
That’s a Velvet Leaf Anthurium Bloom!
They follow a pretty predictable pattern, and if you’re lucky, you can fertilize by rubbing the blooms against each other.
Unfortunately, I have yet to successfully collect pollen – but with the large Anthurium magnificum and crystallanium x magnificum blooms I have on hand about to explode, I’ll be trying again through the month of February.
Check back for a day by day photo journal of the bloom stages of my Anthurium magnificum!