Kangaroo Paws Anigozanthos spp.

Availability: year round
Vase life: 10 to 14 days
Bunch size: grower bundles, not sold by stem count
Colors: burgundy, green, yellow, pink, orange, and several bi-color combinations

Few flowers will generate as much conversation from your customers as kangaroo paws, with their distinctive form and texture. As you might guess from their common name, kangaroo paws are native to Australia. (Included in the state floral emblem of Western Australia, the kangaroo paw has also been featured on several stamps and other official state insignia of Australia.) The long, tubular buds covered with fine hairs do indeed resemble kangaroo toes.

That would be a very colorful kangaroo, with toes that range from yellow to burgundy, including several bicolor combinations. (The green and red kangaroo paws are sometimes called “parrot” paws; green and black hybrids are particularly striking and much sought after.) During the 1990s, kangaroo paws increased in consumer popularity, which led to an increase in breeding and variety improvements. There are now over 40 varieties of kangaroo paws on the market! Some varieties, of course, are more widely available than others, and some are seasonal. One variety or another, however, will be available year-round.

Tall and thirsty

Although kangaroo paws hail from Australia, and are often grown in warm, dry areas together with proteas (native to South Africa), it’s important to realize that the flower doesn’t handle like a protea. “It’s more like a rose,” says Mel Resendiz of Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers in Fallbrook, California. “They’re thirsty flowers.” When a shipment of cut kangaroo paws arrives, the stems should be recut immediately with clean, sharp knives and treated with a hydration solution, then kept consistently in flower-food solution until they are used in design. These care and handling steps will keep the stem from getting soft and the furry flower bud from losing color.

When they are well-established, some kangaroo paws are known as drought-tolerant landscaping plants, and are favored for that reason in areas like southern California. The secret lies in their underground rhizomes, which retain moisture and allow the plant to survive dry spells. But kangaroo paws’ native habitats include both dry and very wet parts of Australia. “I’ve seen them growing in Queensland where they get lots of rain,” says Mel, “and grow to enormous heights.” In the forest, the tall stems of kangaroo paws allow them to thrust their colorful flowers above the nectar to the birds that pollinate them. Their height, however, means that cut kangaroo paws must draw moisture through a long straw. Any blockage can easily result in wilting.

While some kangaroo paws can grow to five feet or more, the stems of paws grown as commercial cut flowers are typically 20-30 inches long. The flowers offer vivid color and texture—but they too, even though borne in clusters, are slender rather than voluminous. As a result, designers tend to use kangaroo paws primarily as line material. Some varieties are more branchy than others, with a terminal structure like hat trees, adding further line interest to the elongated stems and fingerlike flowers.

Open wide

The decorative value of kangaroo paws lies in the stems and velvety buds; a casual observer might not even notice the wide-open, six-petaled flower at the end of the bud that gives the flower its Latin—or rather, Greek—genus name: anigozanthos, from two Greek words meaning “an open flower.” It’s recommended, however, that florists purchase kangaroo paws with at least one flower in each cluster beginning to open. This indicates a sufficient state of maturity for optimum stem strength and color. Properly harvested and shipped, kangaroo paws should last for two weeks in the vase, according to Mel Resendiz.

A final note of caution: after handling the stems of kangaroo paws, your hands may itch. It’s not that kangaroo paws are toxic, it’s simply that they are covered with fine hairs. Wearing long sleeves, or gloves, or both, may be a necessary precaution if your skin is sensitive.

Care tips

Select flowers that are not wilted or limp, an indication of improper shipping. Purchase kangaroo paws with one or two flowers in each cluster beginning to open. The smaller flowers will not open, but they add fullness and texture to the stems.

Re-cut stems, removing one to two inches, and treat with a hydration solution following manufacturer’s instructions. The use of a hydration solution is especially critical if the flowers are wilted. Condition flowers for one to two hours at room temperature.

Store in a high humidity floral refrigerator at 36 -38 degrees.

Kangaroo paws are wilt sensitive, so keep the stems in water at all times prior to adding to designs.

Kangaroo paws may be dried by hanging them upside down in a low-humidity, low-light area. The drying process will take from two to three weeks. Spray with a sealant to prevent insects and moisture damage. 

Reprinted with permission from Flowers& magazine, July 2009.