Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos & Macropidia)
Kangroo Paws are a group of iconic Australian native plants belonging to the genera Anigozanthos or Macropedia. They have gained a reputation for being difficult to grow and susceptible to disease but if you choose the right variety and care for it correct it should reward you with a marvellous display of colour every year.
The genus name Anigozanthos is a combination of two Greek words, anises meaning unequal and anthos meaning flower, and is a reference to how the flowers are divided into six unequal claw-like petals which when combined with their furriness gives them the appearance of an outstretched kangaroo paw.
The genus name Macropidia is a combination of the Greek macro mean large and podes meaning foot and is again in reference to the resemblance of the flowers to the feet of kangaroos.
The native range of all species of Kangaroo Paw encompasses only south-western coast of Western Australia, a region with dry Summers, and as such are difficult to grow in areas with humid Summers as they are susceptible to ink-spot disease, a fungal disease that causes the leaves to turn black and die.
When selecting a cultivar of Kangaroo Paw to grow in the garden at home you should general avoid the showy dwarf cultivars as they tend to be more susceptible to diseases and less hardy, often failing to thrive unless grown in pots. Larger varieties of Kangaroo Paw tend to be hardier and more disease resistance but generally don’t flower as well. A good middle ground can be obtained by selecting medium sized cultivars that have good disease resistance but will still put on a spectacular display. Check the plant label when buying to ensure that the cultivar you have selected has good resistance to ink-spot disease.
Kangroo paws spread via an underground fleshy rhizome which means if a clump grows too large it can be divided using a spade and transplanted to another part of the garden creating more room for the original clump to send out new shoots. In fact, dividing the clump then pruning back the tired foliage during Autumn can re-invigorate a clump of kangaroo paw causing it to flower better and replace any diseased foliage with fresh new growth.
When planting your kangaroo paw, choose a site that is in full sun or light shade for part of the day. The soil should have excellent drainage, be slightly acidic in pH and be sandy or gravely in texture. Unfortunately many areas of Australia have clay soils and you will need to work in lots of sand and gypsum to help break up the clay prior to planting if your kangaroo paws are to grow well.
Leave plenty of room around each plant and be sure not to plant them right up against neighbouring plants. This is important as it helps to promote airflow around the plant which in turn helps the foliage dry out quicker after rains or watering reducing the chance of fungal problems.
Mulch well around your Kangaroo Paws with bark or woodchips to keep the soil around the root system cool and retain moisture.
If planting Kangaroo Paw during the warmer months of the year, be sure to water them well while they become established. Although generally drought tolerant, even established plants will benefit from additional water during dry spells in Summer and will produce better flowers as a result. When watering avoid wetting the leaves to prevent the fungal ink-spot disease and ideally water during the morning so that any water on the leaves will quickly dry in the heat of the day. Trickle irrigation systems are ideal for growing kangaroo paws as they avoid wetting the leaves and deliver water directly to the roots where it is needed.
Fertilise during planting or after division in Autumn with a slow release fertiliser, some species of kangaroo paw are sensitive to phosphorus so be sure to only use a low-phosphorous fertiliser. Fertilise again during their Spring growth spurt and you will be rewarded with an excellent flower display.
Don’t be disappointed if your kangaroo paw plant only produces a few flower stalks in its first year, they need time to become established, the number of flowers produced during its second year will be greatly increased. Prune away any spent flowers as soon as they begin to go bad to encourage the plant to produce new flower stalks for a prolonged display.