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Anthurium vs. Alocasia (How to Tell Them Apart)

Anthurium vs. Alocasia (How to Tell Them Apart)

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It’s easy to see why people mistake certain species of anthurium and alocasia for one another. To the untrained eye, both plants have features that may look similar.

The fact is, they’re distant cousins from the flowering family of Araceae. Their inflorescence or floral structure is unique to their ancestry. Both are coveted not only for their stunning blooms, but also for their gorgeous foliage.

Though they have some resemblance, each has distinct characteristics that set it apart from the other. To clear up any confusion, we’ll break down the similarities and differences between anthurium vs alocasia.

The Anthurium

Anthurium is the largest and most diverse genus in the Araceae family, with over a thousand species and cultivars. They’re native to the tropical rainforests of the Americas and the Caribbean.

Part of anthuriums’ charm is their long-lasting and colorful “flowers” technically called spathes.

Spathes are actually modified leaves or bracts with a glossy coating that makes them look artificial.

Common Anthurium Species

  • Anthurium andreanum or Flamingo Flower
  • Anthurium clarinervium or Velvet Cardboard
  • Anthurium hookeri or Bird’s Nest
  • Anthurium regale or Laceleaf
  • Anthurium scherzerianum or Pigtail Plant

The Alocasia

Alocasia is another genus from the Araceae family. Native plants grow in the tropical and subtropical biomes of Asia and Eastern Australia.

There are around 90 accepted alocasia species grown around the world.

Alocasias are cultivated for their spectacular foliage. Their leaves have deep colors, distinct markings, and enormous sizes.

Common Alocasia Species

  • Alocasia amazonica or Polly
  • Alocasia baginda or Silver Dragon
  • Alocasia maharani or GreyDragon
  • Alocasia micholitziana ‘Frydek’ or Green Velvet
  • Alocasia macrorrhizos or Giant Taro

What Are the Similarities Between Anthurium and Alocasia?

Anthurium and alocasia are perennial evergreen herbs commonly known as aroids. Aroid is a term that refers to all members of the family Araceae.

Their similarities do not stop there, so keep reading to learn more.

1 – Growing Conditions

Beneath the crowns of lush trees, native species of anthurium and alocasia receive filtered sunlight and rain showers all year round. As tropical houseplants, they grow best in warm and humid environments.

Both thrive in bright but indirect light. A sunny room with east- or west-facing glass windows will give them the most ideal lighting condition to flourish.

They aren’t frost-hardy, so they’re best kept indoors. Seasoned owners know better than to place them near air-conditioning and heating vents, where air can get bone-dry.

2 – Soil Type

Anthurium and alocasia need slightly moist soil rich in organic and inorganic matter. Typical garden soil gets waterlogged and predisposes them to root rot.

Their potting mix should include plenty of coarse and well-draining amendments, like peat moss and perlite. These materials create large air pockets in the soil that encourage gas exchange.

Coco coir and pine bark are also common ingredients blended in their potting mix. Their ability to hold moisture keeps the air around the roots humid.

3 – Leaves

Anthurium and alocasia plants have large leaves of varying shapes and textures. In some species, leaves can grow to massive proportions.

For example, Alocasia macrorrhizos and Anthurium vittarifolium have foliage that can reach up to six feet in height.

Different textures are common to both plants as well. Leaves can be glossy, matte, leathery, or velvety.

In addition, elephant ears, an alocasia variety, have the same heart-shaped leaves as most anthuriums.

Lastly, like many alocasia species, Anthurium crystallinum and clarinervium have well-defined creamy veins on their leaves.

4 – Inflorescence

Anthurium and alocasia have the same flower structure or inflorescence called the spadix. It’s one of the distinguishing features of aroids.

The spadix contains a cluster of tiny flowers around its fleshy, slender spike. It protrudes out of the spathe, which is a type of bract shaped like a leaf.

The prominent and colored spathe not only supports the spadix, but also aids in pollination.

5 – Defense Mechanism

Anthurium and alocasia are toxic to humans and pets. Throughout the plants, there are bundles of needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals called raphides.

Raphides are irritating to the eyes and skin. They can also cause swelling and intense pain in the mouth when eaten.

They’re highly poisonous in large amounts, though ingestion is rare. The pain, which feels like being stabbed with tiny shards of glass in the mouth, prevents the toxins from getting swallowed.

What Are the Differences Between Anthurium and Alocasia?

Here’s how to distinguish anthurium and alocasia from each other.

1 – Plant Type

In the wild, anthuriums grow aboveground as epiphytes or aerial plants. They take root on tree trunks, mossy crooks, and leaf litter that carpets the jungle floors. They also depend on hand-me-down nutrients from supporting structures.

In contrast, alocasias are terrestrial plants, which means they sprout from the ground. They derive much-needed nutrients from the humus-rich forest soil.

2 – Stem Type

Anthuriums have normal stems with nodes, which are joints where new roots and leaves emerge. Meanwhile, many alocasias have underground horizontal rhizomes.

Rhizomes look like creeping stalks of roots. They are, in fact, specialized stems that send out shoots (new growths) and roots through the nodes.

In addition, some alocasias have tubers, which are thickened and starchy parts of rhizomes. Tubers provide structural support for the plants.

They also store plant food, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients. These are used to nourish fresh shoots and prepare for winter when resources are scarce.

3 – Spathe

Anthuriums have heart-shaped spathes that grow at a right angle to the cylindrical, sometimes twisty, spadix.

They come in dazzling colors of red, pink, peach, coral, and white. Some cultivars or hybrids have bright burgundy, purple, green, yellow, and even bi-colored spathes.

While most spathes are flat, a few species resemble a cup or a tulip.

Alocasias have long boat-shaped spathes that partly encase the finger-like spadix. The colors range from cream to varying shades of green.

4 – Flowers and Reproductive System

Anthurium flowers are perfect or complete. It means that each floret is bisexual, having both male and female reproductive parts.

The flowers can pollinate themselves (through self-pollination) or with other flowers (known as cross-pollination).

Alocasias, on the other hand, have unisexual flowers distributed in the same inflorescence. Starting from the base, the spadix contains these reproductive sections:

  • Female zone, hidden in a bulbous floral chamber
  • Sterile mid-zone (infertile)
  • Male zone
  • Sterile appendix (infertile)

In this structure, the male and female zones do not bloom at the same time. This forces the flowers to cross-pollinate with other plants.

5 – Leaf Shape

Arranged in a spiral around the base, anthurium leaves are mostly cordate or heart-shaped. Other species have oblong, oval, and pendant-like foliage.

Many alocasias have sagittate or arrow-shaped leaves on long stalks called petioles. Quite a few have scalloped or undulating edges.

Some rarer species have leaves that look like stingrays, squid tentacles, and giant arugulas. They’re respectively called Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Stingray’, alocasia plumbea (flying squid), and Alocasia portei (Malaysian monster).

6 – Leaf Color

While anthurium flowers come in a rainbow of colors, their foliage is predominantly green. The leaves range from the lightest to the darkest shades.

In contrast, many alocasias have variegated or multi-hued leaves. The primary color is still green, but with plenty of variations.

For example, Alocasia zebrina ‘Reticulata’ is a cultivar desired for its intricate lacework of greens. Alocasia odora ‘Variegata’ has a unique camo-like print on the leaves.

Some collector’s items have even more extraordinary leaf variegations.

Alocasia cuprea is nicknamed Red Secret for its reddish-pink foliage. Alocasia infernalis or Black Magic is another remarkable variety with purplish-black blades.

7 – Veins

Most anthuriums have reticulate venation or vein arrangement. There is a prominent middle rib where web-like markings branch out. The leaf margin is also well-defined.

Contrastingly, many alocasias have veins that run in parallel. Several species are also brochidodromous or loop-veined.

In this type, the veins do not end at the edges or leaf margin. Instead, they form a continuous set of marked arches.

8 – Propagation

The common methods to propagate anthuriums are through seeds, stem cuttings, and plant divisions from the roots.

On the other hand, the propagation of alocasias involves breaking up clumps of adult and baby plants from the rhizomes or tubers.

Final Thoughts

Between anthurium vs alocasia, each plant is a winner in its own right. Both feature colorful inflorescence and show-stopping foliage.

They’re both tropical houseplants that need the same growing conditions. It should be easy to keep a few pots from each aroid tribe.

In all other aspects, anthurium and alocasia are quite diversified. The toughest part is choosing which species or cultivars to add to your collection.

Before you go: Now is the perfect time to start tracking your gardening progress, and I created a garden journal to do exactly that. Click the image below to see it in action and to get your own copy.

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