The Biscayne Times

Apr 05th
No Fuss, No Fertilizer PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
October 2019

The bird’s nest anthurium is a near-perfect ornamental

TPix_YourGarden_10-19here are many great ornamental plant species we can grow in our South Florida gardens that don’t require massive amounts of horticultural chemicals and commercial fertilizers. And with temperatures becoming warmer, our plant palette is increasing. Once I had to be careful to protect plants from winter’s low nighttime temperatures or treat the damaged foliage and trunks of cold-stressed plants, but that is now hardly the case.

The aroid family of plants is one that is typically vulnerable to low temperatures and doesn’t tolerate frost. We’d see damage and leaf loss when temperatures dropped into the low 40s for just a few hours. Lower than 40 degrees, and the plants would die outright.

The photograph that accompanies this article is of a bird’s nest anthurium, or Anthurium salviniae, an aroid that’s growing as an epiphyte on one of my live oak trees. I planted a small, hand-sized seedling on that large branch about 20 years ago and forgot about it. It’s now in its typical habitat, growing in the branches of a tree. It is not a parasite, meaning it doesn’t take nutrients from the tree or grow roots into the branch.

This bird’s nest anthurium will also grow on the ground. If given enough space, the leaves will form a perfectly round rosette of foliage, with individual leaves growing six to seven feet long. It likes lots of organic matter and does best on a pile of decomposing wood or palm trunks.

These plants never need to be fertilized. Because of the way the leaves are arranged, they act as compost collectors, collecting fallen organic matter. The more light the plant is growing in, the tighter the rosette of leaves.

When growing in trees as an epiphyte, its own roots will begin to grow straight up into the decomposing matter in the center of the rosette. This is a very efficient way for the plant to get nutrients in an area where it would otherwise be very difficult with no roots growing down to the base of the tree and into the ground.

Bird’s nest anthuriums don’t grow very long roots. Their roots absorb water and nutrients, and help the plant stay attached to the tree branch, but this is not a hemi-epiphyte that grows on a tree and has roots in the ground.

The strength of the attached roots is quite formidable. A healthy bird’s nest anthurium will stay attached to the tree, even in hurricanes. The leaves will shred but will eventually grow back, forming another rosette. This particular plant has gone through four hurricanes.

To take this photo, I climbed a ladder to remove some of lower-hanging leaves that had been damaged in Hurricane Irma. Those leaves were more than two years old, still green, and manufacturing food for the plant.

Notice the long red thing in the photo. This is the structure that holds the fruit of the bird’s nest anthurium. It was called the inflorescence when it held rows of tiny flowers; it is now called the infructescence since it is holding fruit.

The fruit are small and arranged kind of like corn on a cob. You can pick off an individual fruit, and when you squeeze it, one or two seeds should pop out. These seeds are usually viable, i.e., you can plant them.

Don’t eat the fruit; and try to keep the juice off your skin. The sap in aroids, and this holds for the entire family, can be quite caustic. The sap from some aroid species will cause the skin on my arms to itch for a while, and I know people can be much more sensitive than I am.

This plant in the photo has several inflorescences. They begin by growing straight up, then eventually poke out of the leaves at a right angle, where they’re likely to be pollinated by small flies and beetles at night. Once the fruit begins to set and the whole structure get heavier, it hangs straight down. Pretty smart for the plant. The red fruits are obvious to birds and small animals that will eat them and eventually disperse the seeds.

When the bird’s nest anthuriums are growing on the ground, the infructescence will end up on the ground, being pushed away from the plant and obvious to fruit dispersers.

I have quite a few bird’s nest anthuriums, of different species, growing in my landscape, mostly on the ground. Since they can grow in darker areas, they’re good to “plug up” holes in the landscape or areas where you just want some green foliage.

Every landscape needs a few, and they don’t need to be fertilized.


Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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