The Anthurium is closely associated with Hawaii in the minds of many people. But did you know that the anthurium is not native to Hawaii? In fact, it originated several thousand miles away. How did it get to Hawaii and how did the anthurium industry develop in Hawaii?
The genus Anthurium contains somewhere between 600 to 800 species and is native to South America. The vast majority of species are distributed in tropical climates across Central and South America, where it tends to grow in mountainous regions inside of humid rainforests.
Of this massive genus, one species, A. andreanum, is responsible for virtually all of the different types of cut flowers that are sold today. A. andreanum was introduced into Hawaii in 1889 by Samuel Damon and through the years it has become closely associated with Hawaii, despite having originated in South America. Initially, growers propagated them via cuttings. But once growers learned how to propagate them via seed, a huge explosion in colors and sizes occurred, because growers were able to use selective breeding to produce new varieties.
As more and more new varieties were developed, a cottage industry sprung up in Hawaii. Growers who produced flowers in their backyards under tangerine trees or tree ferns as a hobby started selling their flowers to Hawaiian flower shops in the 1940s. Slowly growers outgrew their backyards and started growing their flowers in large shade houses, which were constructed out of steel cables and shade cloth.
With the advent of air travel, more and more people came to Hawaii and were introduced to the anthurium. In addition to introducing people to anthuriums, air travel also made the export of anthuriums to the rest of the world possible. While cut flowers would never survive a long boat ride to faraway lands, air travel has shrunk the world considerably and allowed Hawaii’s anthurium growers to market their flowers to the entire world.