History of the Anthurium Industry

Introduction of anthurium cultivation

Anthurium evolved as an under storey, epiphytic species in the tropical forests of Tropical, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Although many species of Anthurium are indigenous to the Caribbean, Anthurium andraeanum Linden Ex André, the most extensively cultivated species of anthurium is an introduced species. For more information refer to the section on ‘genetic resources’

Anthurium andraeanum
Linden Ex André was first introduced into Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean in 1915 by Eugene André.  These early introductions, referred to as ‘Caribbean Pinks’ or ‘Local Pinks’ and ‘Caribbean Whites’ or ‘Local Whites’, were interspecific hybrids between Anthurium andraeanum Linden Ex André and other species (see genetic resources for more details). 

Early systems of cultivation

These introductions were extensively grown under cocoa and citrus during the 20th century for export and continue to be grown, albeit at a lower level, for the local market. During the period 1945- 1970, ‘Local Pink’ anthurium cultivation in Trinidad was at its peak with some 80- 121 hectares planted under tree crops (mainly cocoa and citrus). The largest farm in Trinidad was the Naranjo Estate in the Aripo Valley with approximately 20 hectares under cultivation, and production of 6000 saleable cut-flowers per week.

During the early period natural shade of trees provided the shade, which limited the quality of the anthurium cut-flowers achieved and restricted access to export markets.  This in combination with a spell of dry weather months in the late 1960’s and shortages of labour in the 1970s due to the oil boom, in Trinidad, resulted in a decline of the industry. After the 1970s, only 20 hectares were still under cultivation in all of Trinidad.

Emergence of modern systems of cultivation

During the l970s, anthurium began gaining popularity as a cut-flower in Holland and Hawaii, and in the late 1980s this captured the interest of some regional enthusiasts especially in Jamaica.  Exotic Hawaiian, Dutch and other European anthurium cultivars were introduced and cultivated in shade houses in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, under high management, primarily for export. 

During this period anthurium began to be grown in shade houses, covered with 72% shade cloth overhead and with enclosed sides, in the Caribbean.  Anthuriums were grown at high density (50,0000 plants per acre) under overhead irrigation on raised beds made of coconut husk, which was cheap and readily available. The growing media was supplemented with organic (compost and chicken manure) and inorganic (fertilizers) fertilizers to enhance growth. The starting cost was between TT $160,000 to $200,000 per hectare (1990 estimates) mainly due to the cost of infrastructure and the cost of imported planting material. This did not allow small farmers to enter into the fray. The production system has remained the same up to this day. 

The rise and fall of the industry

The exotic anthurium industry in the Caribbean was based on mainly imported Dutch cultivars, and the majority of cut-flowers produced in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago was exported to the North American market.  Jamaica became the largest exporter into the US in the 1980’s, which coincided with the decline of the anthurium industry in Hawaii triggered by the bacterial blight disease caused by Xanthomonas axonopodis pv dieffenbachiae (previously Xanthomonas campestris pv. dieffenbachiae).  Just as Jamaica was flourishing, it too was hit by bacterial blight disease which allowed and Trinidad and Tobago to expand its production soon making Trinidad and Tobago the largest supplier to the USA through the late 1980s and 1990s. However, commercial production in Trinidad started to decline by the mid 1990s, again hit by bacterial blight and bacterial leaf spot (causal organism: Acidovorax anthurii) diseases. Most Dutch cultivars grown in the region, at that time, were highly susceptible to the two bacterial diseases and the burrowing nematode (Radophilis similis).

The control of these diseases was difficult and expensive requiring extra labour and agrochemical. Bacterial blight disease is by far the most important, economically, among the three problems. The management of this disease requires the fumigation of beds prior to planting, prophylactic spraying of chemicals, and physical sanitation.  These disease problems coupled with the high cost of planting material from Holland and the establishment of shade houses severely affected the industry.

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