The Kangaroo Paw Family - Cultivation

Introduction

Of the Australian members of the Haemodoraceae, only species and cultivars of Anigozanthos, Conostylis and Macropidia are generally found in cultivation although other genera may be grown by enthusiasts. Of these, only Anigozanthos has received any attention from plant hybridists - interestingly, a few natural hybrids between Conostylis species have been recorded, which may mean that hybridization will create hardier plants of this genus in the future. Species of Haemodorum are also rarely seen in cultivation although the horticultural potential of one species, H.coccineum, is being investigated for the cut flower industry.

Although many members of the Kangaroo Paw family have proved to be easy to grow in cultivation over a wide range of climates, many others have proved to be a cause of frustration. The origin of most species in a dry Mediterranean climate seems to be the key factor in successful or unsuccessful, particularly the way adapt to climates of higher rainfall, especially in summer. Development of Anigozanthos hybrids has gone a long way in addressing this problem as far as that genus is concerned.

   Group of kangaroo paws
   A group of kangaroo paw hybrids make a colourful display
in a narrow garden bed.
Photo: Shirlee Finn

As a general rule, members of the family require the following combination of conditions:

  • Excellent drainage - they will not tolerate waterlogging although A.flavidus will tolerate less than perfect drainage.

  • Plenty of moisture when the flower buds are forming - lack of sufficient water during this period can cause the stems to form permanent bends and the flowers to abort.

  • Good light - the more sun the better.

  • Sandy soils or sandy loams

How strictly one needs to adhere to this regime varies from species to species. As a general guide, in areas of high summer humidity (eg. eastern coastal Australian northwards from the NSW south coast) most success will be achieved with Anigozanthos flavidus in its various forms, hybrids based on A.flavidus (see table), Conostylis candicans and Conostylis aculeata. Other species and hybrids can be successful but their cultivation will be more challenging and it may be advisable to grow them in a container. Species such as the magnificent red and green kangaroo paw (A.manglesii) and the green kangaroo paw (A.viridis) usually germinate readily from seed and will flower in their first season - these could be treated as annuals or biennials in humid climates. In less humid districts, a much wider range of species and cultivars can be expected to succeed.


Hardy Anigozanthos hybrids and cultivars based on A.flavidus *

Cultivar or Hybrid Parentage Comments
A.flavidus forms A.flavidus The typical A.flavidus has tall stems with greenish-yellow flowers. A number of more attractive colour forms are available (red, orange, pink) which are just as hardy as the common form.
Big Red (A.manglesii x A.flavidus) x (A.rufus x A.humilis) Moderately vigorous plant with deep red flowers on stems to about 1 - 1.5 metres.
Bush Haze A.flavidus x A.pulcherrimus Moderately vigorous plant with yellow flowers suffused with red on stems to about 1 - 1.5 metres.
Bush Ranger A.flavidus x A.humilis One of the hardiest of the small-growing cultivars. Bright red flowers on stems to about 0.5 metres.
Gold Fever A.flavidus x A.pulcherrimus Moderately vigorous plant with yellow/orange flowers on stems to about 1 - 1.5 metres.
Pink Joey Probably a form of A.flavidus Bright pink flowers on stems to about 0.5 metres.
Red Cross A.flavidus x A.rufus Moderately vigorous plant with deep red yellow flowers on stems to about 1 metre.
Yellow Gem A.flavidus x A.pulcherrimus Moderately vigorous plant with bright yellow flowers on stems to about 1 - 1.5 metres.
*This is only a very small selection - new cultivars are released annually and some older ones, including some of the above, may become difficult to find..

As many the members of the family are usually small and take up little space in the garden, they make excellent feature or rockery plants (the latter position also helping with good drainage), especially in small gardens. It has been noted that cutting the stems after initial flowering will promote further flowering that season (thus extending the flowering period).

A further benefit of Anigozanthos species and cultivars is their attraction to honey eating birds.

Pest and Diseases

Kangaroo Paws (and their relatives) are subject to a number of pests and diseases which can affect their successful cultivation. Of these, the ink-spot (shown left) and rust diseases are probably the most serious. These are discussed in the article Kangaroo Paws: Pests and Diseases.

As a general rule, however, the problems caused by these diseases can be minimized by growing plants suited to the climate and by ensuring that plants are grown in an open, sunny position with good air circulation so that the foliage does not remain moist for long periods.

Weed Potential

Like any plants grown out of their natural habitat, members of the Haemodoraceae have the potential to become weedy in favourable environments. However, the only known problem with the Australian species is a report of Anigozanthos flavidus invading natural areas in the northern suburbs of Sydney (specifically, Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden at St Ives). This suggests that this species should be closely monitored in near-bushland areas in temperate climates, particularly in moist locations. As noted previously, most hybrids are sterile and do not produce seed so it may be best to grow hybrids (see table above) rather than A.flavidus itself in such areas.

As far as is known there have been no weed problems with A.flavidus or other members of the family in other areas.

Hybridisation

An important trait of the Haemodoraceae seems to be their ability to hybridise readily. Numerous hybrids of the genus Anigozanthos have become commercially available in the last 15 or so years. The main aim has been to combine the hardiness of A.flavidus with the showiness of some of the other species, including the famed A.manglesii (in the form of the hardier A.'Bush Emerald').

When selecting kangaroo paw hybrids the best indicator of hardiness lies in the leaf type. Those hybrids with a leathery glossy, mid-green leaf generally have A.flavidus as one parent which generally makes them a much hardier garden plant. Hybrids with a grey green leaf are usually derived from less hardy species and generally will only thrive for one or two seasons in the garden. The latter are probably best grown in containers using a quality potting mix designed for Australian native plants.


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