When the wife of shipping magnate Charles Morgan suddenly died in the summer of 1885 and left her heirs 2,000 exotic plants to sell at auction in New York City, her flaming red anthuriums drew bids of up to $110 per plant.
These days, however, anthuriums have been mostly demoted from Victorian trophy flowers to hotel lobbies, where their waxy, spade-shaped leaves are valued mainly for an ability to last for six weeks (long enough to get dusty in a planter next to the concierge podium).
But good news—in recent months, we’ve started seeing the Victorian darling treated with respect again, popping up in floral arrangements everywhere from Copenhagen to our favorite florists’ Instagram feeds. And modern anthuriums don’t have to be flaming red—when we asked florist Sophia Moreno-Bunge for guidance, she suggested a paler palette:
Photography by Sophia Moreno-Bunge for Gardenista.
Above: Sophia arranged white anthurium, powder-puff scabiosa, and pink-veined pitcher plants (Sarracenia) in a Vase by Natalie Weinberger.
Above: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps Mary J. Morgan loved the strong, architectural lines of anthuriums, with their fleshy spadices protruding from the middle of the leaves. (Tiny flowers grow on the spikes.)
Morgan nursed her anthuriums through the cold New York winter months in greenhouses behind her house at 7 E. 26th Street in Manhattan. But although shed paid $200,000 over the years to acquire her exotic plants, at auction the whole collection sold for a total of only $20,000.
Above: Morgan, born in 1923 and the daughter of a merchant, became fabulously wealthy after becoming the second wife of railroad tycoon Charles Morgan. After his death she continued to collect treasures: porcelain from China, enamel boxes, silver snuff boxes, paintings (she favored Corot and Delacroix), and plants.
Above: Pink-veined pitcher plants (Sarracenia) are carnivorous—and were prized exotic specimens in the Victorian era.
Above: Scabiosa, known as pincushion flower, comes in many colors (including pale blue and deep purple). A similar white Scabiosa Atropurpurea ‘SnowMaiden’ is $6.95 for a 4-inch pot from Annie’s Annuals.
Above: Native to warm climates in the Americas (they can be found growing from Mexico to South America), anthuriums are members of the arum family and in interceding decades since the heyday of Mrs. Morgan’s hothouse flower they’ve become popular houseplants because of their hardiness.
Above: To see more of ceramist Natalie Weinberger’s collection, go to Natalie Weinberger.
Above: In the Victorian era, German plant collector Wilhelm Kalbreyer discovered Anthurium veitchii, a giant with 6-foot leaves, in Colombia.
Above: After the first anthurium was imported to Hawaii in 1889 to be grown on the Damon estate on Oahu, hobbyists started to propagate the plant’s seeds. After the University of Hawaii launched an anthurium breeding program in 1950, the practice developed into a major commercial venture.
Above: Sophia undercuts the formal structure of the anthuriums in her arrangement by adding delicate branches of pieris (also known as the Lily of the Valley shrub).
Above: How and why does a flower fall out of fashion? This is our latest installment of Rethinking Flowers, a series about old garden favorites that deserve a second chance.