Typhoniums - Growing and Hybridizing these lesser-known Aroids

By LariAnn Garner (LariAnn) on May 7, 2011

Tropical plant fanciers living in northern or temperate climates are interested in new, exotic looking plants to enhance the tropic atmosphere in their gardens. One genus of Aroids, Typhonium, is ideal for this because they go dormant in winter. But there are two caveats, one of which I can change, and one I can't . . .

Little Stinkers

Many folks know that all flowers do not smell sweet or romantic. Some have aromas intended to attract a lowlier type of pollinator, one not normally associated with beautiful blooms. Flies that are found often buzzing around carrion, animal offal or household waste are found frequenting blooms of this type. One plant genus that produces blooms like I've just described is the aroid genus Typhonium. While their blooms can be beautiful to look upon, they are not nose-friendly when they are ready to be pollinated!

However, these plants do have several desirable characteristics, especially for the northern gardener who likes to grow tropical or tropical-looking plants in their garden. They have a more tropical looking growth habit and, even more importantly, they go dormant in winter. This makes them more of a worry-free plant as gardeners do not have to try to keep them growing through the long, cold, dreary winter days.

Brightening Them Up

Typhonium trilobatum

Up until a few years ago, the only species of Typhonium I knew of was Typhonium trilobatum (see photo to right), a vigorous and almost weedy plant that throws maroon, foul-scented blooms in Spring and Summer. The only problem with the plant is that the leaves are all green, so except for the blooms and trilobed leaf shape, the plant can disappear in a green landscape situation.

However, that changed for me when a friend of mine, John Banta, introduced me to some Typhonium hybrids he had produced (see photo below, left). What really surprised me was that these new plants had maroon spots on the leaves, plus silvery veination! Naturally, my interest was heightened, especially since his hybrids were much smaller growing plants than my familiar T. trilobatum.Typhonium Mardi Gras My immediate interest was in whether I could use his hybrids to produce a much larger, more vigorous Typhonium with leaf colors, using T. trilobatum as my base parent. This work I was able to do last year (2010) and this year I am growing on the results of that work.

Not For The Faint-Nosed!

Perhaps I should get hazardous duty pay for hybridizing plants like these, as the work must be done at very close range and when the blooms are "ripe", meaning smelling their worst. However, someone has to throw themselves on the live hand grenade in order to accomplish this type of cross, so it fell to me to do the deed. Fortunately, the odor was not so overwhelming as to make me swoon, but I was still glad to finish the work!

Compared to my past experiences in pollinating aroid blooms, these inflorescences are unique in a couple of ways. Firstly, the female part of the bloom is so low to the ground as to be almost buried. Secondly, the sterile area between the pollen-bearing or male flowers and the ovule-bearing or female flowers is replete with fleshy hairs so dense that access to the female flowers is nearly impossible (see photo below, right). I had to use tweezers to tear away these hairs enough to allow me to view and pollinate the female flowers. Note in the photo that the female flowers, creamy in color, are right at the base of the cutaway area while the remaining white fleshy hairs can be seen just above the female area.

The pollen itself is a pretty pastel pink in color, looking somewhat like pink confectioner's sugar, but not smelling like it!Typhonium trilobatum closeup To get this to work, I had to have one bloom female-ready at the same time as another one was dropping pollen. The deed had to be done either late at night or very early in the morning, before sunrise, making this work even more interesting

Perseverance Yields Rewards

After doing a number of crosses in both directions with these plants, the wait to see if success was imminent began. The whole process was fairly quick (about one month), as if the cross did not work, the bloom aborted within a week. Fertile crosses resulted in noticeable swelling of the female parts and the production of creamy white berries. In about a month, these would fall off and be lost if I didn't act fast, especially since my soil mis has Perlite in it, and the berries blended in just like pieces of Perlite. Each one yielded one light grayish seed which I cleaned, soaked overnight and then planted.

This experience was reminiscent of my work with Caladiums, except that Caladium blooms have a much sweeter aroma when they are ready to receive pollen. As an aside, that particular fact was a real surprise to me, something that I discovered very recently and a subject which I will share more about in a future Caladium article. Oh, and the seeds of Typhonium are larger than Caladium seeds, so are much easier to work with.

Once the hybrid seedlings are large enough to show their full glory, I will post an article showing how they look and describing my further adventures with these plants.

Related articles:
araceae, Aroid, aroids, crossing, hybridization, hybrids, spadix, spathe, typhonium

About LariAnn Garner
LariAnn Garner is the founder and Research Director at Aroidia Research. LariAnn is amply qualified for the position, having a Bachelor of Science in Botany, and a Masters Degree in Plant Physiology from the University of Florida. After her college education, she spent a number of years working at several nurseries to gain practical experience before embarking on her own research efforts. One of these nurseries was Bamboo Nursery in the Orlando, Florida area, where she observed and learned about the Philodendron hybridization work of Bob McColley. To learn more about LariAnn's work, visit http://aroidiaresearch.org.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Aha!! Two for one... Sharon May 7, 2011 6:02 PM 5

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