Spathiphyllum wallisii: White Sails, Lily of Peace

Only a few genera and species of aroids are grown for their attractive flowers. Many are cool-loving garden plants (arum, lysichitum, symplocarpus, cal-la, arisaema), others are suitable only for cool homes (zantedeschia, with the exception of species with coloured flowers such as Z. elliotiana). The selection of aroids with decorative flowers which can be used as house plants in modern centrally-heated homes is very limited; it includes anthurium, typhonium, steudnera and spathiphyllum.

All 36 known species of Spathiphyllum are native to South America. The species has a rather unusual history. It was once picked up ‘in the swamps of Colombia’ and sent to the botanical garden in St Petersburg, whence it was introduced to botanical gardens throughout the world as well as into cultivation, but was never found in the wild again. The plant is approximately 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in) high with dark green, distinctly-veined leaves and a short, thick underground rhizome. Also a fairly common house plant is the similar species S. blandum, whose area of distribution embraces a large territory extending from Mexico to Brazil, where it grows in the warm tropical forests alongside water or in depressions in savannas where water is retained a long time after rains.

Spathiphyllums are ideal plants for the paludarium, for most are bog plants or else require a high water table or regular flooding. They need ample heat, even in winter, when the temperature should not drop below 18°C (65°F) for more than a short period.

They should be grown in a peaty compost with an addition of sand and leaf mould. It must never dry out completely, for the roots of these plants constantly reach into water in the wild. One great advantage of spathiphyllums is that they tolerate continual shade, even deeper shade in summer.

They are readily propagated by division of the clumps or by seed sown in peat.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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