Meet the family: Aroids
The Living Rainforest has an amazing collection of rare and unusual aroids (Araceae family). The collection was donated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew several years ago and since expanded to include hundreds of plants with extraordinary diversity.
Look out for aroids throughout our greenhouses, both growing on the ground and rapidly up trees as climbers and epiphytes. Several varieties are similar to aroids popular as houseplants in the UK, such as Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), although only growing much bigger in rainforest conditions!
Aroid leaves are often large and colourful, and sometimes with distinct mid-rids. The family is united by characteristic flowers which have a protruding spadix (male and female parts) and surrounding spathe, a hood-shaped and often brightly coloured leathery bract (a modified leaf).
What’s more, many species have chemical reactions that heat their flower to above ambient temperature to help disperse the flower perfume (much like the giant Amazon water lily).
Many species are poisonous to different extents, containing calcium oxalate crystals. If eaten, this can cause a burning sensation and swelling in the mouth and throat.
Meet the family
Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia seguine): A popular houseplant that does well in shade. It originates in Central America. If the sap gets into a human mouth, it will make the tongue swell, causing speechlessness in adults and hurting children. This was once used by slave-owners to torture unruly slaves working in Caribbean sugar plantations.
Elephant’s ear plant (Alocasia ‘Sarian’): Each plant has several broad leaves up to 1.5m (5’) across. Native to tropical forests and damp areas of South America and South Asia. The stems are edible after cooking.
Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa): Large white flowers produce an edible pine-apple flavoured fruit. This is edible after a year, but poisonous while developing. The plant will climb 20m (65’) up trees using thick aerial roots to hook onto branches. The huge leaves have holes in which let water run through. Originates from Mexico to Panama.
At a glance
Distribution and Habitat
15cm (6’’) to many metres high
Ornamental houseplants; food sources; amazement
Anthurium veitchii, an epiphytic aroid that grows on trees with leaves up to 2m (6') long
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