Every year when I see my friend Ivan from Ecuagenera at the International Aroid Show he invites me to Ecuador. Something always comes up, or I just never make time. This time I finally got on the plane to Ecuador.
The drive through the mountains on the way to Gualaceo was fantastic!
Just the plants on the side of the road are enough to make your mouth water.
Plants look so different in their natural habitat rather than growing in a shadehouse. We stopped several times along the way to take pictures and to marvel at the diversity of the plant and animal life.
After arriving at the Gualaceo nursery where we were staying, we were shown such wonderful hospitality by Pepe Portilla who invited us all into his home to share meals and conversation.
To walk into one of Ecuagenera’s immaculate greenhouses is a life altering experience. Everything has its place, and the plants seem to go on for miles. Rows and rows of cool growing high elevation orchids grace the benches in Gualaceo.
It’s interesting that it becomes difficult to breathe after simply squatting down to take a picture, either from being used to living below sea level my entire life or the excitement of seeing so many new plants in one place. Don’t get me started on the stairs leading up to the greenhouses on the upper level...pant…wheeze!
Ecuagenera’s display garden in Gualaceo is mind blowing. To see so many plants that I struggle with, growing like weeds is quite humbling, but still I try…it’s a sickness. I need help.
If I thought I was in heaven before, this clinched it. We were met at the gate by Ray, who is the caretaker and all around plant guy at Pangui. It’s obvious he loves his job and takes great care with the plants. He seemed very excited to show us around, and show us what he’d been working on. The Pangui nursery is more my speed since it is their low elevation nursery. Still, at 2000 ft, some plants require cooler temperatures than I can offer.
I cannot begin to explain how beautifully grown the plants in the landscape are. To see these aroids happily growing up a tree is an experience I won’t soon forget. I almost had to sit down to recover from the shock of seeing patches of Anthurium regale 30 ft wide, Philodendron esmeraldense and Philodendron patriciae so large they were nearly taking down trees.
It was starting to get dark, so we had to run to go through the nursery. Imagine benches of anthuriums you’ve likely only seen pictures of growing in such quantities that it seems like a dream. Here’s some more pictures of plants you’ve only seen pictures of. All the while, Ivan’s patience for my obsessive picture taking was much appreciated. Sometimes he had to stop for a nap.
On the fourth day, we drove up and over the Andes mountains, towards Pangui, stopping for more pictures and some side excursions. A little dog was sitting near the top, the Loma de la Virgen, just hanging out. We wondered at his presence there, so far from civilization, but he seemed well fed and he seemed to have places to go.
That evening we went to eat at a restaurant (with WiFi!! Halleluja!) and a capybara trotted right past us and into the kitchen. He was eventually captured and carried out of the restaurant. In the excitement, I forgot to take a picture of the poor scared little guy.
It was tough to sleep that night knowing we were going back to Pangui in the morning, but I figured I could run on adrenaline…and coffee. Strangely, coffee is not popular in Ecuador and was sometimes difficult to find. Ivan worked tirelessly to keep me caffeinated and moving forward.
Arriving back at the Pangui nursery the next day, it was even more fantastic than I remembered. (fig 34-36) Now we had allll day to look around. One thing that I came to understand is that it is nearly impossible to put names to these aroids. Even as they are brought into the nursery, their habitat is being cut back to clear roads and to make pasture for cows. So many of these amazing plants are only seen growing in a small area. It seems it would only take one landslide (quite common in the area) to wipe out an entire species.
I went around for more pictures since the light was poor when we had arrived the previous evening. Pictures are the main reason I wanted to go to Ecuador. These plants vary so much as they grow and a plant in three different stages of growth can look like three completely different plants.
We were treated to some leaf cutter ants at work. These little guys neatly cut out pieces of leaves and use them to grow subterranian fungus gardens.
After a couple days of skipping merrily through Pangui, it was time to go back to Gualaceo so we could get permits and paperwork in order to bring the 527 plants back to the US…I told you I had a problem.
On the drive back across the mountains, the same little dog was trotting along in the opposite direction.
Once we returned to Gualaceo, we visited the rest of the greenhouses we had missed on our first visit, and Ivan took us to visit Gilberto Merino of Equaflor-A in Cuenca. Gilberto has a beautiful collection of plants. Many of them very well suited for terrariums. It’s obvious he has a knack for finding interesting plants, as his benches were covered with miniature plants I had never seen before. Gilberto will be bringing plants to sell at the IAS show this year.
We spent our remaining day eating, drinking coffee, (ahem!) and exploring, usually escorted by the Portilla’s beautiful llama dog, shown here sitting on my foot while I sit outside the office trying to use their wifi to check my email.
This was the trip of a lifetime, and the Portllias are such gracious hosts. If you ever get a chance, you owe it to yourself to check out Ecuagenera’s tours.
One of the most important things to know about growing anthuriums from seed is that they need to be planted almost right after harvesting. They cannot easily be stored and they quickly lose viability. I have heard of storing them in clean water and doing a water change every day or so, but I haven’t done it myself to test it. First, collect the fruit and gently squeeze the seeds out. There are usually 1-3 seeds inside. Some people treat the seeds with a fungicide and this may help you with better germination rates, but I have had success with just cleaning the seeds by wiping them on a paper towel as I press down lightly. A side note, occasionally you will wait and wait for your seeds to ripen and when you go to plant, you will find that the seeds have not formed properly. You may have nothing inside or maybe just a weak, clear-colored seed. This is very discouraging, but often there are at least a few seeds in the batch. As far as a growing medium for seeds, I generally use AAA New Zealand sphagnum moss or a very well-draining potting mix like Promix mixed with at least 50% perlite. This is very important so that your seeds don’t mold or rot. Premoisten the surface of the mix before lightly pressing the cleaned seeds onto the surface of the soil. Do not bury them. Keep them in a warm humid location. If you have issues with humidity, a plastic Tupperware type of container with a lid can be used. This also helps deter snails who absolutely LOVE baby anthuriums. Apparently the more rare the seeds, the more of a delicacy they are. Normally I use cell trays and plant each seed in its own cell, but occasionally out of laziness I use hanging baskets and plant several at once and transplant later. They grow much better in the cell trays, separated. Anthurium seeds will generally begin to sprout within a few days to a week and it seems the growth rate depends on the size of the seed you are starting with. Some species have seeds the size of a grain of sand while others may have larger seeds the size of a fingernail. Larger seeds have more food for the growing anthurium and generally grow much more rapidly. As they grow, you can transplant them into 4" pots or small hanging baskets. Once they get established they generally grow quickly. Vegetative propagation: If propagation by seed is too time consuming, (it certainly is for me) vegetative propagation may be preferred. This is basically just taking cuttings. I never do this during the winter or even after October here in South Florida because as the days get shorter, you are less likely to be successful. You may lose both the cutting and the mother plant by overzealous cutting at the wrong time of year. I’ve done it repeatedly, that’s how I know. I normally start cutting on March 1. Get out of the way!! I’ve got knives, clippers and machetes depending on the size of the plant. If it’s a more delicate or valuable plant, I may even wait a bit longer. By June, I can cut anything and throw it in the bushes or mulch pile and it will still root quicker than a March cutting. If you have mist on a timer you can be a little more aggressive with cuttings, they will root faster and easier. Normally the top portion is cut off with some roots and planted in a very well draining mix or sphagnum moss. Sometimes there are offsets from the mother plant that you can separate. I also do stem section cuttings. I will cut a section of stem into about 2" pieces, making sure there are at least two nodes and set each in its own pot sideways.
I'm finally doing it...after 15 years of growing under shade cloth, we've decided to finally build a bonafide greenhouse. This one will be 30 x 48 with fans and an evaporative cooler. This brings our total under shade growing area to about 4500 sq ft.
Our growing conditions here are often different from other places around the country. We are mainly faced with keeping our fabulous new plastic box in the sun cool, rather than warm, save for a couple nights a year. It occurred to me this year that I lost way too many rare anthurium seedlings to rot from over a hundred inches of rain this summer ( a million?) I lost count. I simply need a covered area to grow properly. Yet, I hate to lose the fabulous, life giving rain water and then water with our brown well water, so maybe I need to collect the rain water and use it for irrigation. Even though I lost everything cold sensitive in 2010 when cold weather caught us with our plastic down, there are still some plants who have formed a union of sorts and have agreed to grow better if they don't have to sit through a couple cold nights that retard their growth...and the rain.
All summer I've been trying to take pictures and pack orders...again, in the rain. It gets really really old. The dang murderous raccoons and their love of juicy koi...they won't be able to get in...Buwahaha!
However, there is the small issue of hurricanes. Hurricanes are known to hate greenhouses/shade houses for unknown reasons. Ehhh...I'll worry about that next hurricane season.
This project has just started, and I will detail it in phases and take pictures as we go.
Now I can finally grow a Victoria lily to full size...or maybe some of the large growing Amorphophallus like titanium and gigas. Ooh! Cyrtospermas! Now I can get that variegated red sealing wax palm I've had my eye on! Er...I'm going to need a bigger greenhouse already.
It occurred to me the other day that plant collecting has really changed over the past few years. For example, a mere 15 years ago when I first got into collecting plants, I was looking for unusual plants. Then variegated plants...then this morphed into collecting mainly aroids and gingers. I met many people along my journey, and many introduced me to others that shared my passion for unusual plants. This got me thinking…most plant collecting is second hand, or even third. I mean, I was buying and trading with people who had in many cases collected these plants themselves. Sometimes they didn’t want to part with a particular plant, and it was all part of the excitement when after many visits they might share a small plant with me.
About 10 years ago, we decided to go to Thailand to visit our friend Mark Collins and collect amorphophallus. First let me just say that I am NOT an adventurous eater. I like my food dead and cooked to nearly beef jerky consistency…and not looking at me in the eye. I lost about 7 pounds on that two week trip, living on warm Coca-cola and sticky rice. (Who doesn't refridgerate soda?)
After a rollercoaster ride from a van driver with a death wish, we arrived near the Thailand/Burma border. We got out of the truck and were given these large “spoons” to dig amorphophallus tubers with. As we walked towards the trees, a 6 ft cobra sauntered across our path in the direction we were headed, seemingly oblivious to the spoon-weapons we carried. The whole time I’d been worried about leeches and I’d forgotten to worry about cobras!
The amorphophallus species in that area have long, carrot-like tubers and grow in glorified concrete. You cannot break or chip the tuber, because it will rot on the journey. So think…digging straight down about 2 feet in hard packed soil, with a big spoon. Luckily it was only 100 degrees. When we finally got back to Mark’s farm, he had them for sale for 50 cents! It gave me a huge appreciation for the collectors that had come before me.
Importing plants can be difficult as well. After many times bringing in plants that never recovered from shipping, I have mostly quit bringing things in after repeatedly opening boxes of newly imported, pre-killed plants. I can kill my own plants locally much cheaper.
One of the first collectors I found was Dewey Fisk. He was one of the first people I found with a website and I was excited to see he was local. At a time when the internet was just getting warmed up, Dewey had one of the only places online to look up ID's for aroids.
Dewey’s partner at his nursery was Ralph Lynam. He was full of wonderful stories and credited his longevity with drinking a gallon of milk every day. He recently passed away at 99. This is him at left with my son Jesse, then 6 months.
I also used to have a great nursery in Homestead for cool things. The owner would regularly travel to Thailand and bring back such incredible stuff that he didn’t even know what it was. I suspect he just enjoyed travelling to Thailand, with the plants being an afterthought.
Or Jean Merkel, at Alberts and Merkel Bros nursery...I can’t tell you how many times I found a plant I couldn’t live without only to have it unceremoniously wrenched from my
hand and replaced with a much smaller version...if I was lucky! Every once in a while though, if the moon was in the right phase, he would part with a plant and you would bolt to the car before he changed his mind. It was all part of the excitement.
I do so miss Julius Boos, and his booming voice re-accounting his colorful travels. He will be forever etched in my mind. It was always the highlight of the Aroid show when he would show up. There are so many other long time collectors that seem to have retired or passed away in the last few years, it seems all at once. Many of the plants have been lost.
Now that many of the aroid collectors I started with are gone, it seems it has gotten to the point that it seems so much collecting is done online. In some ways this is great, your collection can grow very quickly this way. In many cases you need to do little more than type in the name of the plant to find it. It may be easier, but I find it a little sad that the plants don’t have the wonderful stories behind them…
Usually involving leeches!
After a week in beautiful Puerto Rico, it sure was tough to come home. Winding narrow roads with towering tree ferns on either side sure make it tough to come back to South Florida. Here are a few pictures from the trip.
Amorphophallus titanum in a friend's garden.
We decided that these huge caterpillars probably turn into a small brown moth when mature...and eat anthuriums
I believe this was Heliconia longissima, that inflorescence was about 5 ft long.
Variegated red sealing wax palm
Heliconia serpens blooms basally and at the top...crazy!
Philodendron melanocrysum with about a 36" leaf
Philodendron verrucosum, what is interesting is that many of these plants came from our nursery originally and have just taken off in Puerto Rico's perfect climate, while mine cough and wheeze their way through summer.
This is an awesome variegated Philodendron hybrid that I gave my friend years ago. Mine reverted to all green, his grew up a tree and stayed variegated.
Puerto Rico has such a perfect climate and the people are wonderful! We drove over 1000 miles with our rental car and the trunk was filled with dirt and leaves when we returned the car...the rental car guy was not amused.
As we slap together another of these little greenhouses the question remains…"How will we ever fill it?" Just kidding. I plan to start moving cuttings in before the panels are even in.
I think these little Harbor Freight greenhouses are rated to like 5 mph hour winds, so we ought to be good if we have any hurricanes this year. You actually need 4 people to help build it since it has be held up at each corner to keep it from falling over until it’s all bolted together…very interesting design. It’s actually pretty sturdy once it’s all up.
The old greenhouse (conveniently located 3 feet away) has mist that comes on every 10 minutes. We’ll do the same with this one. It makes such a difference when rooting new cuttings. Plus it keeps the temperature in the little plastic box in the full South Florida sun under 150 degrees. I may have to put shade cloth over it or hang it inside as we did
the other one. It is absolutely amazing how big it looks before plants are added. My son is all ready to move in.
We started the wall project a couple of years ago, but never imagined it would do so well. It has now been two years and the growth has been mind blowing. Anthuriums, peperomias, and ferns are the proven winners. Philodendrons need just the right spot, however. Some of the plants are actually growing so large that it is difficult to stand far enough away to get the whole plant in the picture.
Initially I put some dorstenias, elatastema and other assorted seed spitters on the wall thinking they would fill in the bare spots, they seem to be spitting seeds on the ground in front of the wall and way across to the growing benches...bastards.
The top of the wall makes a handy place for the spiders to build webs. That way they can catch my face every time I stand on the blocks to check out a particularly beautiful
new leaf at the top. The other spiders think this is hysterical. I suspect it is some sort of initiation the new spiders have to go through when they move tothe wall. I only let them stay because they seem to catch little moths before they lay eggs that become anthurium eating caterpillars, so I guess it’s a tradeoff. Either situation makes me want to scream.
Neptune fish and seaweed emulsion has been my fertilizer of choice. It stiiiinks for a few days and it almost assures me someone will want to stop by and look at plants when the place smells like a cat food factory, (just realized why the cats have has been hanging out in the shadehouse…weird). This stuff doesn’t kill the living fish in the catchment pond and the results are nothing short of amazing! By the time the ''stank'' leaves the shadehouse, the plants are four shades greener.
While some things die off and others take over, the evolution of the wall is interesting. You really never know what is going to do well, or spontaneously combust when it touches the wall.
The New Greenhouse
While spring appears to have sprung...we're desperately trying not to start propagating until March 1rst. (besides the 76,534,573 seeds we already planted...but who's counting?) If I make it to February 1rst it will be a miracle. After two incredibly warm winters (Yay global warming!!) our plants are growing like...er...weeds! With several trips in the works to bring back more cool stuff, we can hardly wait to get this season started. This will also be the year that I finally do more with the website...updating this shiny new blog, writing more how-to articles, adding links and more pictures. After more than 12 years in business, this feels like the most exciting one yet!
We are the place to get hard to find aroids, and we specialize in Anthuriums and Philodendrons. Most everything we sell, we have grown ourselves. Over the years we have figured out (by killing them repeatedly, and finally growing them successfully) how to grow certain plants. We work hard trying to get this knowledge out there. We are also working on a seed availability of sorts. We regularly produce more seeds than we can possibly use. Many of these varieties must be planted when very fresh, so a dedicated page will be set up as availability allows.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!!!