Monday, December 29, 2014

An Australian in Arizona

Anigozanthos flavidus, Kangaroo Paws, Anigozanthos flavidus flowers
I first learned of Anigozanthos flavidus, the Kangaroo Paws of Australia, during some fast, intense research just before beginning my desert garden.  Very mildly acquainted with the plant, I purchased a small, blooming specimen in November.  I then brought it home and (of course!) looked it up again.  To my surprise, the New Sunset Western Garden Book did not recommend it for the low desert climates.  I could make nothing (and still can't!) of the distinctions: where it is expected or not expected to grow in the American Southwest.  So I posted about my new plant on Google Plus and asked my Australian friends for advice.  The opinions I received gave me the following information.
  1. The plant can stand desert heat
  2. The plant can withstand a little frost
  3. Kangaroo Paws detest wet feet and should be tried first in a container,  raised off the ground for better drainage
  4. Cut leaves and flowering stems back as necessary
  5. Intelligent neglect is recommended
So a few days after collecting this helpful information, I went out to pot up my acquisition.  I was not a bit pleased with myself when I found that somehow the pot had been standing in water left over from nearby plants!  The little Anigozanthus already looked the worse for it.  Larger leaves showed some dieback, and the blooms were turning brown.  While resolving to replace the plant if necessary, I thought I would give this one the best chance I still could, so I took it out to the garden and potted it up immediately.

It is a curious statement about my garden soil that I added some of our gravelly top soil to the potting mix I was using.  I wanted to ensure good drainage.  My soil here seems to be a mix of clay and sand, and I find that clay plus sand does not equal garden loam!  In fact, the topsoil near the house is layered: gravel and sand on top, heavier soil beneath.  So I scraped up the gravelly bits and added this to the good moisture-retentive potting soil!

I put the plant in and clipped back the dying leaf sections, having read about a major Australian hybridizer cutting the leaves back drastically - sometimes even with a tractor!  I cut back the old flowering stems.  The results were a spindly little plant that still had a lot of good green growth in the center.  Anigozanthos forms little fans of leaves from the base.  This one still has several young fans in perfectly good condition.
Anigozanthos flavidus, Kangaroo Paws
Since then, I have tried to keep my neglect intelligent.  The plant is taking it all in stride as a good, sturdy, desert native should do.  So far the results are good, though I suppose it will be quite a while before it produces more of its rather exotic, furry blooms...  (These photos were taken before I repotted it.)
Anigozanthos flavidus, Kangaroo Paws, Anigozanthos flavidus flowers
Anigozanthos flavidus, Kangaroo Paws blooming stems
So a big thank you to Elizabeth and Frank for their advice - so far all is well with the Kangaroo Paws!
Anigozanthos flavidus flower, Kangaroo Paws flower


  1. It would be a houseplant for me.. but a pretty one!

    1. Its climate range is a bit specialized, isn't it ;-) Seriously, I can't help wondering if it might do well tucked in as a houseplant or perhaps in a cool greenhouse. It seems very happy with our just-freezing temps right now!

  2. I'll be interested to hear how yours does over time, Amy. I've had mixed results thus far. All mine have been planted directly in the ground. Those planted in very dry areas died out within a few months - too much neglect perhaps. The dwarf varieties that got watered on a regular basis did well for about 9 months, flowering almost continuously, but then they got tired - they probably just needed a rest but I decided I wanted something else in that location so I pulled them. I now have 2 of a taller variety ('Yellow Gem' I think). They seem to be fine, although neither is flowering right now.

    1. It's good to know they take garden watering well. I'm hoping to get this one or -hopefully - divisions of it into the ground eventually and see how it goes. The dwarf varieties sound great, but I haven't seen any here so far. The plant market seems really underdeveloped in this area with a lot of the plants coming from SoCal, but no way of knowing what will be available next week or next month! So maybe some of the hybrids will show up soon...