We have the richly bio-diverse area of Western Australia to thank for the bizarre and beautiful kangaroo paw flower. As with all flowers, the kangaroo paw plant has developed its procreative anatomical structure to sound the siren to specific pollinators; in this case, honeyeater birds. In spite of the similar appearance of the different kangaroo species, each flower species cleverly deposits its pollen on a different part of the visiting bird’s head, ensuring that the precious genetic material won’t get wasted on a competing kangaroo paw species.
Also known as the cat paw flower, the 12 species of the common kangaroo paw belong to the genus Anigozanthos, but the black kangaroo paw is part of the Macropidia genus. Kangaroo paws require tropical growing conditions, and can thrive in USDA growing zones 10-11.
Kangaroo Paw Identification
Kangaroo paw plants have strappy foliage similar to daylilies or amaryllis plants. The tubular flowers are borne in fan-like rows, giving the appearance of an animal’s paw. Flowers are covered with dense, velvety fuzz, which influences the flower’s color. Flowers are commonly red, yellow, or orange; white and pink types are also available. Depending on the species, kangaroo paw plants can grow from two to ten feet tall.
Planting Kangaroo Paws
If you're patient, you can start your kangaroo paws from seed. Presoak your seeds in hot tap water for two hours to soften the seed coat and increase the chances of germination. Keep them moist, and don't give up on germination until at least six weeks have passed. For transplants, choose a sunny site with lean, well-draining soil for kangaroo paws. A shovelful of compost added to the planting site is all the plants require for fertilizer.
Kangaroo Paw Care
Although the kangaroo paw evolved to tolerate the dry habitat of Western Australia, it appreciates a little pampering with some irrigation. Your kangaroo paw plant will produce the most blooms in its season of active growth if it receives at least an inch of water each week during the spring and summer, which is when blooming happens. This extra irrigation will also cause blooms to appear earlier in the season than on plants left to nature's devices. Supplemental water usually isn’t necessary when the plant is out of bloom.
Kangaroo paw plants respond well to heavy pruning. Treat them as you would a bearded iris, which also usually produces one flush of bloom per leaf fan. Cut the plants, leaves and all, back to six inches after the blooms have faded, and you may be rewarded with a second, smaller flush of blooms.
Divide the plant in the spring with a sharp knife, or save seeds from ripe fruits to ensure new kangaroo paw plants the following growing season. Kangaroo paws are short lived perennials, so even if you live in a frost-free growing zone your original plant may not return after two or three years.
Watch your kangaroo paw plants for signs of ink spot disease. The fungus manifests itself as blackening of leaves and stems. Remove damaged foliage, and prevent the fungus by keeping plants in full sun, light soil, and by not overcrowding the plants.
Garden Design With Kangaroo Paw Flowers
Plant the smaller kangaroo paw varieties in containers. Their drought tolerance helps them to keep on blooming when summer temperatures sizzle. A combination planting of low-growing sempervivum succulent plants look stunning, and will thrive in the same sandy soil and hot sun that kangaroo paws like.
Kangaroo paw flowers add an exotic flair to floral arrangements, so make room for them in the cutting garden. As very drought tolerant flowers, you can plant tall varieties of kangaroo paw flowers in the farthest corners of your landscape, where they will shine without the benefit of the gardener’s constant tending.
Kangaroo Paw Varieties
From the 12 wild species, hybridizers have worked to create named cultivars with increased disease resistance and showier flowers:
- Bush Baby: Orange and red flowers on very compact, 18-inch plants that look great in containers
- Bush Nugget: Red stems and yellow flowers glow in the middle of the flower border; three-foot plants
- Dwarf Delight: Early blooming; orange flowers; two foot tall plants for container culture
- Red and Green: The well-known floral emblem of Australia; A. manglesii features red fuzz atop green petals and stems. A short-lived kangaroo paw.
- Red Cross: Maroon flowers and stems on five-foot tall plants
- Regal Claw: Six-foot stems bear large reddish-orange flowers
- Tall Kangaroo Claw: Tough six-foot plants shrug off disease and heavy soil; this A. flavidus species is available in a range of colors