By Tommy Clarkson on the July 2020 Edition
If ever one were welcomed into the wild and wandering (or is that wondering?) world of tropical plant cultivars, this is a good place to commence the journey. Perusal of the many variants of Aglaonema is confusing if not downright mind-boggling. Thus, though speaking of this particular plant some, much of that which ensues will regard the cultivars whole of this genus,throughout which a degree of confusion reigns!
A good example of this is the common name I’ve used above. However, having dug through an array of secondary tropical botanical sources, I was hard pressed to get the sort of confirmation that I wished to have in order to undisputedly state without a shadow of doubt, that this is, really and truly, the name for this specific cultivar, all alone by itself. This muddlement (another word that should be a word, if it isn’t already!) lies, in part, in the fact that there are, simply, a very great many in this genus. One source states the number to be 3,750 species. And then we have all of these, very similar in appearance, cultivars!
Nevertheless, we must start some place. So, as our “jumping off point,” let’s commence with the simple, basic and undisputable etymology of the genus name. It is the combination of the Greek words aglaos, meaning bright and néma, that translates as thread. I’ve read that this might be a reference to the bright stamens of its flowers. As to the name of the species, it is also the Latin word nitidum, for bright. This specific form has taken the name from its initial collector, Charles Curtis (1853-1928).
As to this attractive foliage plant’s origin, the Aglaonema nitidum f. curtisii is native to the humid forests of peninsular Malaysia and Lingga Archipelago – you know where that is, of course. Go to Bogotá, Colombia and take a hard and very long right across a lot of saltwater!
A bit, broadly speaking, of this (in the Army we called that “hand grenade close”) and its many, close-appearing kin, it is an evergreen, spreading, herbaceous perennial. It forms a, usually, erect, stem which grows up to over three and a quarter to nearly four feet (1.22 meters) and with a diameter varying from .40 – 1.18 inches (1 to 3 cm). They have internodes of about .40 – 1.18 inches (1 – 2 cm) with elliptic-to-oblong leaves on 3.94 – 9.84 inches (10 – 25 cm) long petioles that are sharp, at their apex 7.87 – 17.72 inches (20 – 45 cm) long and 3.94 – 5.91 inches (10-15 cm) broad. (Got all those numbers?) These are a glossy, green color that has silvery-grey variegations along the lateral venations (the arrangement of leaf veins) or are distributed irregularly.
Its flora rises on 3. 94 – 8.87 inches (10-18 cm) peduncles (these are stems which support flowers – “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place, Tommy?”). They’re formed by pale green spathes, 1.18 – 3.15 inches (3-8 cm) long – later changing to white – and a 1.57 – 2.76 inches (4-7 cm) long spadix, with female flowers on the lower part for about .40 of an inch (1 cm), while the remainder are occupied by “all too full of themselves” male ones!
The plant can be cultivated in open, shaded, tropical and hu-mid subtropical climate locations, sited in well-draining organic
soil to avoid root rot. While preferring the shade in a bright position, a little direct sun should increase its variegation. Most of the year, around here, we water regularly, but do not keep the soil saturated. This particular form has originated several hybrids, much appreciated for indoor decoration. Should you be compelled to reproduce them, such can be accomplished via seeds, division, or stem cuttings.
If indoors, they will appreciate being fertilized. However, cease doing so during the winter months. If inside, place them in moderate light, perhaps five feet (1.52 meters) from a window with eastern or western exposure. The key to effective in-home watering is to allow the top inch or two (.39 – .78 cm) of soil to dry out between “drinks.” Keep in mind, also that they will probably need to be transplanted into larger containers every so often or their growth will be retarded as they become root-bound. Two last thoughts: Always use fresh soil when trans-planting them and after they’re in a new pot, don’t fertilize right away.
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation – Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.