Mark VowlesAglaonema, the Tropic’s luckiest plant

I’m not superstitious by any means but there are many who will adopt curious strategies in an endeavour to improve their luck. Mind you, good fortune is always welcome so I guess embracing the odd cultural idiosyncrasy couldn’t hurt. Aglaonema or the ‘Lucky Plant’ has for centuries been cultivated in China and other Asian countries as an indoor ornamental foliage plant and considered a bringer of fortune. Its longevity, ease of growth and striking appearance were thought beneficial to the well-being and financial success of the residents who grew it. So, I’m wondering if my new-found fascination for the Thai Hybrid Aglaonema is a subliminal bid to shape my destiny…

Colourful leaves of Aglaonema cultivars

Colourful leaves of new Aglaonema cultivars

Aglaonema originally gained a wider Western audience back in the 1960-70s when the fascination for indoor plants took off. New hybrids were developed from a selection of known species such as Aglaonema commutatum and Aglaonema nitidum, to produce an exciting array of cultivars that fitted the bill perfectly for domestic and commercial interior-scape cultivation. Indeed, many of the commercial growers back then struck good fortune themselves as sales of the new hybrids boomed.

Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’

Around $4 million worth of the cultivar Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’ sold each year during the ‘90s in Florida, USA alone. It is to this day one of the most popular indoor plants ever grown and sold, receiving the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Award of Garden Merit’ among others.

Aglaonema Image by GardenDrum.com

Aglaonema cultivar

Aglaonema cultivar

Then along comes a new kid on the block! Recent years have seen the introduction of an exciting range of new multi-coloured Aglaonema cultivars. The talent of hybridisers from Asia and in particular Thailand has resulted in an astounding pool of plants that, at first glance, bare little resemblance to the cultivars of the late 20th century.

Aglaonema 'Red Cochin'

Aglaonema ‘Red Cochin’

Species including Aglaonema rotundum from North Sumatra and Aglaonema marantifolium ‘Tricolor’ from New Guinea have formed the parentage. With colourful markings reminiscent of Codiaeum variegatum or croton, the Thai Hybrid Aglaonema represent an appealing new addition to our horticultural palette. Dazzling splashes of hot pink on a dark, glossy green leaf surface, diffuse scarlet-red midribs and orange veins or luminous lime green flecking are but a smidgen of the foliage colour combinations. From a collector’s perspective, one could expect a protracted period of obsessive fascination. I can almost hear the cries of “Oh great….. not another plant to covet”.

Aglaonema 'Red Valentine'

Aglaonema ‘Red Valentine’

However you might regard this garish new introduction, its potential in the home and garden does look promising. Although performing best in warmer climates, the new cultivars do emulate the older varieties in many respects. With their parents originating from dark, tropical forest floors, the Aglaonema Thai Hybrids’ tolerance of low light conditions is a big plus. I don’t know of many other plants as capable of entirely retaining foliage colour in a full shade or indoor situation. On the other hand, plants grown in tropical regions will actually stand some direct sun, although only in the morning or late afternoon.

Mixed Algaonema in a dark, shady part of the garden

Mixed Algaonema growing in the garden in heavy shade

A tolerance of dryer growing conditions is also worth noting. A respected commercial grower in the Australian tropics of Far North Queensland told me recently that she had not watered a group of potted specimens for three weeks and they looked perfect! Plants growing in indoor situations seem to prefer only minimal watering which will avoid potential root rots. Many growers use an open, free draining growing mix. In Thailand, using cocopeat or rice husks is popular, and some Australian growers are fond of a mix similar to that suitable for Cymbidium orchids.

Potted Aglaonema in the garden

Potted Aglaonema in my wet tropics garden

The plant is inherently slow growing but does respond to moderate feeding with a slow release fertiliser. A Thai collector mentioned he irrigated his plants with the water used by the family to prepare their fish for dinner! Higher ambient light and temperatures are beneficial with sub-tropical to equatorial regions being desirable environments for an enhanced growth rate.

Aglaonema 'Totol'

Aglaonema ‘Totol’

Aglaonema 'Hot Lady'

Aglaonema ‘Hot Lady’

Florists are finding the cut leaf makes a fine inclusion in arrangements. Leaves can be inserted into floristry phials or oasis wet floral foam and often outlast a majority of the other green components. Longevity of 8-10 weeks is not uncommon!

Aglaonema 'Siam Aurora'

Aglaonema ‘Siam Aurora’

Varieties such as Aglaonema ‘Red Valentine’, Aglaonema ‘Legacy’ and Aglaonema ‘Siam Aurora’ are now in large scale commercial production, so buying these plants is now easier than ever. Many new tissue-cultured cultivars are being exported around the world and will no doubt become available in the near future.

Aglaonema 'Legacy'

Aglaonema ‘Legacy’

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Mark Vowles

About Mark Vowles

Mark Vowles is a landscape designer and horticulturist based in Freshwater, on the north side of Cairns in Queensland's Wet Tropics. His own garden at 'Tabu' has been featured on TV and magazines and is also now a popular garden stay B&B. Mark works on both residential and commercial design projects throughout the tropics.

14 thoughts on “Aglaonema, the Tropic’s luckiest plant

  1. Daphne Ludwig on said:

    Where is one able to buy the new ones please as I have about 20 now and would love some of the very new ones. Thanking you. Daphne.

    • Mark Vowles on said:

      Me too Daphne!. Unfortunately, as far as I know , the available range of cultivars outside of Thailand is limited. You might consider applying for a “Nursery Stock Import License” through the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service ( AQIS). Then it would be possible to import Tissue Culture Flasks of selected cultivars. There seem to be quite a few overseas growers offering some amazing new plants! Otherwise , keep a lookout at local garden centres. All the best, Mark

      • Rob Pilling on said:

        A great informative write up on Aglaonemas. ePlants Sunshine Coast stock some nice new cultivars of Aglaonems.

  2. Regan on said:

    What great looking plants. Like that they will stay those colours in the shade. Do you think I’d be able to grow them in south east Queensland? (I live in Bli Bli)

    • Daphne Ludwig on said:

      I grow them at Caloundra and Brisbane.

    • Mark Vowles on said:

      Definately possible to grow them in South East Queensland, Regan. In fact, some cultivars will grow outdoors as far south as Sydney, Australia (Latitude 34 S) if positioned in a warm, protected spot. Growth is slower the further one moves away from warmer zones and ensure an open, free draining growing medium.
      Regards, Mark.

  3. Polly on said:

    What a great blog on some pretty fantastic plants! Their cousin ‘Croton’ (multiple varieties) are available in the states – either as annuals or house plants. I’m hoping to find some of the cultivars you mention above now too! Particularly drawn to the Red Cochin, Rotundum, Siam Aurora, and Hot Lady. Wish me luck! 🙂

    • Mark Vowles on said:

      I think you are in luck Polly! There are now quite a few varieties available in the US. I’ve even seen some very nice cultivars available on Ebay. Certainly , Hawaii and Florida have very good climates for growing Thai Hybrid Aglaonema and the plant seems to be popular with collectors there.
      All the best, Mark

  4. Arno King on said:

    Hello Mark

    Thanks for a great article on these plants. When they first came on the market, I thought they might be more tropical or demanding than the traditional Aglaonema cultivars we were familiar with. However this has proved not to be the case at all. All the cultivars I grow have been incredibly easy to grow in my western Brisbane garden. They don’t miss a beat in winter. I have even bought plants at the Queensland Garden Expo at Nambour, in July, our coolest month. These plants have come directly down from tropical Cairns and have shown no damage or any impacts from their rude ‘welcome’ to south east Queensland.

    I look forward to future articles.

    Arno

    • Mark Vowles on said:

      Thanks Arno!
      Isn’t it great to discover that a plant you find attractive has a wide climatic range with regards to its cultivation? So many exotic beauties are frustratingly specific when it comes to cultural requirements. Saying that, there is often a great deal of pleasure derived from discovering how to grow a plant that might be regarded as “difficult” when out of its prefered environment.

      Mark

      PS Will also be keen to see seasonal updates of your Vege garden. So nice to see new and interesting culinary delights!

  5. hazel c. dumalagan on said:

    i want to know the names of each variety

    • Mark Vowles on said:

      Hi Hazel, thanks for your inquiry. If you have a look at the images in the article, you will notice at the bottom left-hand corner there is a name for each of the cultivars.
      Regards, Mark

  6. Margaret Smallwood on said:

    Hi, I’m new to this species & am trying to develop a tropical themed garden. Which cultivars would do best in Sydney? We are in a protected spot on the coastal Central Coast just north of Sydney with a little warmer, less severe winter.
    Thanks
    Margaret

    • Mark Vowles on said:

      Hi Margaret. The best advice I could offer is to visit your local garden centre. They should only stock those varieties that are suitable for your conditions. The Thai Aglaonemas are relatively new to cultivation so we are still establishing which cultivars are suitable for different climate zones. The varieties in the article seem to be popular around Sydney and I have heard of gardeners having success with them, if they are given the correct conditions,
      All the best ,Mark

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