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…
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.