by Matt Gibson
Native to southwest Australia, the kangaroo paw plant flower has found its way into the hearts and garden beds of flower gardeners all over the world. It is grown commercially in the USA, Japan, and Israel and also sold as a cut flower all over the globe.
In Western Australia, the kangaroo paw is the floral emblem of the region, as it’s endemic to the area and is traditionally used in Aboriginal folk medicine. The brightly colored blooms are rather large and odd looking, similar in shape to a kangaroo’s paw—hence the name. The flower gets its unique texture from the fine, brightly colored hairs that cover the petals and the stalk, which influence the color of the blooms. Kangaroo paw is usually found in varying shades of red and orange, and more rarely, in yellow. There is also one special variety from a different genus that is called the black kangaroo paw for its midnight hue.
Though the blossoms do not produce any significant aroma, birds seem to love flitting around kangaroo paw plants, whose sturdy stems provide a natural perch for them to sit on. It’s a good thing that the birds like the flowers so much, because kangaroo paw depends on them greatly for pollination. A single kangaroo paw bloom sits atop each tall stem, attracting birds with its vibrant hues and elevation above the greenery. Each flower’s anthers are covered in pollen and positioned in such a way that pollen lands on the head of the birds when they are feeding. The birds then carry the pollen from plant to plant as they make the rounds to get their fill.
Though their velvety appearance would lead you to believe that kangaroo paw flowers are soft to the touch, they are actually a bit rough and bristly and are known to irritate the skin. We recommend wearing light gardening gloves when handling these plants, especially when transplanting, as the hairs cover not only the flowerheads but the stems and leaves as well.
The genus name, Anigozanthos, comes from the Greek word “anises,” which means unequal, and “anthos,” meaning flower. The reference to inequality is probably due to the lopsided paw-shaped flower head.
Varieties of Kangaroo Paw
Eleven of the 12 different species of kangaroo paw belong to the species Anigozanthos. The most commonly grown variety is the Anigozanthos flavidus, also known as tall kangaroo paw. These massive perennials sprout up to 10 stems per plant, and each one can produce as many as 350 flowers. The tall kangaroo paw comes in red, orange, yellow, green, and pink hues, though it’s most commonly seen in red and green. Once established, the hefty plants are usually there to stay, with some records of the hardy beauties showing a lengthy 30-year lifespan.
The odd fellow of the species is the black kangaroo paw, which produces black and green flowers. Though the black kangaroo paw shares many similarities with the other varieties of the plant, it hails from a different genetic family altogether, the macropidia genus.
Try out these varieties of kangaroo paw for zones 10 through 11:
Cape Aurora: This spring and summer bloomer sprouts bright yellow fuzzy flowers atop long, tall stems.
Bush Pearl: Highly prolific, this variety produces seemingly nonstop silvery pink blooms all season long and performs splendidly in containers.
Pink Joey: This variety is similar in size and blooming tendencies to the Cape Aurora but has salmon-colored flowerheads instead of yellow.
Dwarf Delight: The dwarf varieties of kangaroo paw live almost twice as long as the larger perennial versions of the plant and can survive frosts. They are also available in every color imaginable.
Growing Conditions for Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo paw thrives in tropical growing conditions and is suited to USDA zones 9 to 11 especially. These sun-loving flowers do not require any shade, but they will tolerate a small amount if need be. Kangaroo paw does not need tons of nutrients, but they do require a light and lean soil that has adequate drainage. The more you water them, the more blooms you will see. If you don’t live in the right area to grow kangaroo paw outdoors, try growing them inside. They work well in containers and perform wonderfully as cut flowers. Dried kangaroo paws retain their shape and color, too.
How to Plant Kangaroo Paw Flowers
The best way to start your kangaroo paws is by division. It is possible to grow them from seed, but that method requires quite a bit of patience. You’ll need to soak seeds in hot water for two hours to soften up the seed coat, then allow up to six weeks for germination to occur (if it’s going to at all). Pick out a spot with lots of sun and light, lean, well-draining soil. There is no need to add any fertilizer. Just amend the planting site with a healthy dose of compost. Keep the soil moist until seedlings sprout. It will take four to six weeks to see the first growth. Let the sprouts grow to an inch tall before moving them into their own pots or transplanting them into their permanent homes.
Care for Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo paw evolved to be pretty hardy and drought tolerant in its native land, but to get the most out of the blooming season, a little extra care and attention will go a long way. During the blooming seasons of spring and summer, provide at least one inch of water per week. Doing so will promote early blooming and more blooms per growing season as a result.
Prune the plant back after blooms begin to fade, cutting off six inches, including the leaves, and you may see another small burst of blooms in return, as well as strong new growth. For smaller varieties, avoid trimming back the stems, but remove fans of foliage and bloom stalks instead. Divide the plant in the spring, or save the seeds for the next season. Division is essential every few years to promote new growth even if you plant from seed, however.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo paw is resistant to most pests when grown outdoors. If grown indoors, however, keep an eye out for spider mites. If you notice small yellow or brown spots on the leaves or see any traces of webbing, spider mites are most likely the culprit. For a quick fix, or even as a preventive measure, take the plants outside occasionally and hit them with a blast of water. Other effective treatments for spider mites include spraying the plants down with a neem oil spray or a miticide, or releasing predator insects, such as ladybugs or lacewings, to go to battle with the spider mites.
Kangaroo paw is susceptible to ink spot disease. If affected, the fungus will begin to blacken the stems and leaves of the plant. If you see signs of ink spot disease, don’t panic—just take action. Kangaroo paw is quite hardy and tends to bounce back when given the proper care. Remove any damaged foliage, then make sure that your plants are in direct sunlight, in light soil and are not overcrowded in their containers or beds.
Companion Planting for Kangaroo Paw
There are many different options for companion planting with kangaroo paw. The most important thing to consider when selecting companion plants is to find other plants with similar needs, growing condition preferences, and care instructions as the plant you are working with. In this case, kangaroo paws need to be paired with other drought tolerant, heat loving plants that enjoy a tropical growing environment.
The California poppy makes a great garden bed partner with kangaroo paw if you are looking for a flowering plant. If you want the kangaroo paw to be the standout in the bed, however, you might want to select a succulent or cacti that works well with kangaroo paw instead. Blue Chalksticks (Senecio mandraliscae) is a nice choice for a subtle succulent to pair with kangaroo paw. Blue Fescue or Agave desmetiana are both great choices for foliage plants to play a supporting role while the kangaroo paw plays the lead.
Want to Learn More About Kangaroo Paw
This video introduces the mini kangaroo paw hybrids made by Bush Gems:
This video shows off a bunch of different hybrids of the kangaroo paw:
Check out this video for care and maintenance tips for the kangaroo paw:
This short video gives you a quick course in growing and caring for kangaroo paw:
Learn more information from these helpful resources:
Australian National Herbarium covers Tall Kangaroo Paw
Better Homes & Gardens covers Perennial Kangaroo Paw
dengarden covers The Basics of Kangaroo Paw Plant Care
Gardening Know How covers Houseplants Kangaroo Paw
Ozbreed covers Kangaroo Paw Plants & Flowers – Care, Prune and Growers Guide
The Flower Expert covers Kangaroo Paw
The Spruce covers Kangaroo Paw Flowers