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We (Heart) Anthuriums

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 12/28/2015 More stories >>

Associate Dean Kelvin Sewake and Dr. Scot Nelson tell
the story of anthurium blight in Hawai‘i.

Associate Dean Kelvin Sewake and Dr. Scot Nelson tell the story of anthurium blight in Hawai‘i.

Though the anthurium has become one of Hawai‘i’s most iconic flowers, it’s a relative newcomer. The industry began in the Islands in the 1940s; in 1950, researcher Haruyuki Kamemoto initiated anthurium research at what would become CTAHR with a breeding program for the commercial development and release of cultivars to growers. Over the next three decades, the industry gained momentum, supplying local, national, and international markets with 30 million flowers in 1980. Anthurium blight and the subsequent rise of cheaper overseas producers cut into Hawai‘i’s market share, but CTAHR’s breeding program, which releases new varieties only to local growers; research into ways to curb the blight; and Extension work in teaching techniques to growers are keeping the exports of this dramatic flower strong.

Dr. Teresita Amore and graduate student Peter Toves
hold beautiful and blight-resistant Kaua‘i’ and ‘Maui’ anthuriums.

Dr. Teresita Amore and graduate student Peter Toves hold beautiful and blight-resistant ‘Kaua‘i’ and ‘Maui’ anthuriums.

Researcher Teresita Amore, of the department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, continues CTAHR’s tradition of anthurium research and breeding. Two new varieties were released in 2015, the culmination of a traditional breeding process that may take 15 years or more. Anthurium ‘Kauai’ is a pale green variety named in honor of Kaua‘i, the Garden Isle, known for its lush green vegetation and verdant cliffs. ‘Maui’ is a dark red “obake,” or green-edged, variety. The vibrant red flower, named as a tribute to the island, also evokes the image of the demi-god Maui as the catcher of the sun. Both are bred to be tolerant to bacterial blight.

Blight-resistant breeding is important, but non-resistant varieties can be grown successfully, with care. Interim Associate Dean for Extension Kelvin Sewake, who began working with the anthurium industry at the height of the blight epidemic, recalls the devastation wrought by the disease in fields and on livelihoods. Field sanitation to contain the pest is probably the single most effective technique, he explains, one which he taught out in the fields, grower by grower, and with a revolutionary video first shown in 1990. The history of the fight against the blight is described in a new website created by Scot Nelson, a specialist in the department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, which explains the disease and traces its history in Hawai‘I and the college’s responses to it. The story, Dr. Nelson says, is one of the triumphs of Extension in the Islands: from large-scale devastation, today’s fields are almost entirely blight-free.

Anthurium Blight: Pathogen, Symptoms and Management