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Aglaonema commutatum Schott. 1856
pronounced: ag-lay-oh-NEE-muh kom-yoo-TAH-tum
(Araceae – the arum family)
common name: Chinese Evergreen
The Aglaonema genus consists of plants native to New Guinea and tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia, and found in humid shady forest habitat. They have been grown as luck-bringing ornamental plants in Asia for centuries, and were introduced to the west in 1885, when they were first brought to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. They have since been cultivated, hybridized, and bred into a wide variety of cultivars. They can cope with low-light conditions, and are popular house plants. They are very intolerant of low temperatures, and chilling injury can begin as soon as the temperature falls below 15ºC. Dark, greasy-looking patches appear on the foliage. The plants may be grown in the garden, so long as they have a very shady spot with only filtered sunlight.
Aglaonema commutatum generally resembles Dieffenbachia (dumb cane) in appearance. It typically grows to about 50 cm tall, although under perfect conditions it can reach 150 cm.
Thick elliptic to lanceolate dark green simple and entire leaves (10-20 cm long by 5-8 cm wide) with attractive silver-grey blotches grow on erect, sometimes branched, stems, which in a large plant can be up to 6 cm thick. The petioles are between 6 and 25 cm long, with petiolar sheathes membranous or occasionally scabrous. The leaf texture is coriaceous.
As a house plant, it rarely flowers. When it does, each axillary flower has a small creamy white spadix enclosed by a pale green (occasionally white) spathe. The spadix, thin cylindric 2 – 6 cm long, is usually a centimetre or so short of the spathe apex, but occasionally equals it. The flowers are unisexual, with a short (3-10 mm) zone of female flowers near the base and a wider zone of male flowers nearer the tip.
Clusters of fleshy berries, turning yellow then bright red, each a little under 1 cm in diameter, follow the flowers. The fruit is a thin layer covering a single large seed.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, due to calcium oxalate crystals. If ingested, they cause painful irritation of the mucous membranes. In extreme cases, swelling of the throat is sufficient to cause choking and inability to swallow. Usually after about 4 days the swelling begins to lessen, eventually disappearing after about 12 days. Also, the juice can cause painful skin irritation and a rash. All of this should be borne in mind before growing this plant in a household with young children.
Among the more popular cultivars are “Moonlight Bay’, ‘Maria’, ‘Silver Queen’. These mainly vary in the shape, colour and pattern of the leaves.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2016
Page last updated 3rd October 2016