A giant in the garden

Friday, September 11, 2009


Aroids, to my way of thinking, are an integral part of a tropical/subtropical garden. They range in size from petite to giant, and the shapes can be as slender and minimalist or as ruffled and rococo as you prefer.

They climb palms and trees throughout my garden, and they hold up strikingly patterned leaves from hanging baskets, from the ground and from the pond. Among the most impressive size-wise is

Alocasia macrorrhizos 'Borneo Giant' in the
background; Cyrtosperma johnstonii at right,
an aquatic aroid.

Alocasia macrorrhizos  ‘Borneo Giant,’ which grows beside the pond, undoubtedly exchanging chit-chat with the aquatic aroids, Cyrtosperma johnstonii, Colocasia ‘Nancy’s Revenge’ and Colocasia ‘Black Magic.’ There is not one iota of recalcitrance in these various aroids once they find the right conditions, a lesson I learned with a stem cutting of ‘Borneo Giant.’ I planted it in shade. Hah! It struggled to push out small leaves for a couple of years and succeeded so miserably that I threatened it with the “you have one last chance” warning. I put the stem in acid sand and sun next to the pond and have been awed ever since. The plant grows upright on a thick succulent stem, and produces suckers at the base. From time to time, I remove the largest trunks (stems) because they are quite near underground pipes to the waterfall and I’m afraid they’ll engorge them one day. This also keeps the giant leaves closer to earth for better viewing.

As I do for many other plants in the garden, I give them controlled-release low-nitrogen fertilizer two or three times a year. In winter, the edges of the leaves turn yellow after a cold front, and the size of the leaves gradually becomes smaller. This summer, with all the rain, the leaves are what might be called robust. The largest are slightly more than six feet long and the smaller leaves are 5 ½ feet by 2 ¾ feet wide. 

The International Aroid Society’s annual show and sale is Sept. 19 and 20 at the garden, and it is an opportunity to see some of the best grown aroids in South Florida. I will see you there!