Kangaroo Paws –
Anigozanthos flavidus, Anigozanthos manglesii
Origin: Western Australia
These fascinating plants produce a flower shaped like a kangaroo's paw which emerges from a grassy tussock. The size, flower-stalk height and color of their flowers varies between species. The long flower stalks rise above undergrowth and attract birds to the presence of nectar in the flowers. The stalks also provide a perch for the visiting birds.
The shape of the flowers is an adaptation which allows pollen to be deposited on the heads of feeding birds. This pollen is transferred from flower to flower as the birds feed. Different species of Kangaroo Paws usually deposit the pollen on different areas of the bird's head. In that way, the pollen from one species is unlikely to be deposited in the flowers of another species.
Occurring naturally in the southwest of Western Australia, Kangaroo Paws grow in a range of habitats and soil types. Anigozanthos flavidus which is commonly known as the Tall Kangaroo Paw grows vigorously and is forgiving of a variety of soil types. I have had the best luck growing it in looser soil such as 30% compost, 30% bark, 30% clay, and 10% sand. It does well for me growing in the full sun here in the Northeast. I allow it to dry out between waterings and fertilize it once or twice a month during the growing season. It is hardy to about 20 degrees but the leaves will become damaged by heavy frost.
Another species, Anigozanthos manglesii or the Red and Green Kangaroo Paw, is the official floral emblem of Western Australia. I have found that this species prefers more sandy soil. It also does well in full sun and likes to dry out between waterings. It flowers between July and November, producing metallic green, furry flowers on vibrant red stalks.
A major disease of all kangaroo paws is a fungus which causes ink disease. Ink disease appears as large black blotches on the leaves. Plants growing in cool moist climates are more susceptible. Ink disease is hard to treat. Vigorously growing plants are more resistant and dividing clumps after several years helps ensure strong growth. This is why I make sure my Kangaroo Paws dry out between waterings. In addition, during the winter months, I will cut back the plants four to six inches above the soil and water very sparingly. Most plants will then go into a dormancy period. I have also kept them going as "houseplants" during the winter. They do ok but have very little growth during this time.