Next week we’ll finish that column about Dickman, but today I want to talk about a couple of those very beautiful tropical flowers that come from Hawaii. They are certainly colorful, magnificent and stunning. And yes, while most do come from Hawaii, as the world has become smaller, they are being grown in and shipped to the United States from Jamaica, Colombia and some Asian and African countries. Not too long ago I visited an enormous plantation, of many types of tropical flowers on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic.
I believe that the most recognized flower is the bird of paradise, Strelizia reginae. In its native South Africa, it is referred to as crane flower. It’s that striking orange-and-blue flower at the top of a very thick and fleshy stem that really looks like a beautiful tropical bird in flight. While we call the whole thing a flower, in actuality, what we have is a green boat-like structure called the spathe that houses the flowers. Inside the spathe are several actual flowers, each with bright orange sepals and two striking peacock blue petals. It is when they open that we recognize that bird in flight.
If yours arrive tight, cut an inch from the bottom of the stem and place in a pitcher of water for a couple of days. Now, reach in between the two parts of that spathe and gently pull them apart. Doing it under warm water makes it easier. When an inch or so apart, gently reach in and pull out two or three of the actual flowers. There will be more, but start here and then arrange in your vase. The rest will appear as the flowers age. And as you arrange them, be sure they are all “flying” in the same direction.
Our second most important flower — and we don’t see much of it anymore because it has become somewhat costly — is the anthurium, sometimes called the flamingo flower. This native of Colombia is closely related to the calla and the jack in the pulpit. The actual flower is that finger-like appendage that arises from the very large, heart-shaped spathe.
Each of those little “bumps” is an individual flower. While the red is still the most popular, and most used, today we have varying shades of pinks and whites and even lavender and purples.
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Among my favorites are the obake hybrids from Hawaii. They are very large and multicolored, often having two or three colors in different shades.
In Hawaii, anthuriums are grown in huge structures covered with a fine netting. This netting comes in various densities so that growers can grow light-loving varieties under light shade, just to protect them from the bright rays of the sun, or they can use a more dense netting for those varieties that are native to the jungles and need very little light.
Flowers are harvested daily and are shipped by air to the West Coast or by FedEx to Auburn. They’re here the day after harvest. Please remember that both birds and anthuriums do not do well in refrigeration. They last longest when enjoyed in a cool room, 65 to 70 degrees, away from heat and a sunlit window.
Interestingly enough, when you buy directly from the islands via e-mail, the shippers often include a few pieces of really brightly colored tropical foliage. At another time I will devote a whole column to leis. I love them; actually took a full-day class in Maui on their history and how to make them.
Carmen Cosentino operates Cosentino's Florist with his wife, Anne Marie, and daughter, Jessica. He was elected to the National Floriculture Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2008, received the Tommy Bright award for lifetime achievements in floral education. He can be reached at email@example.com