Breeding kangaroo paws only took off in the 1960s, reaching a fever pitch in recent decades with the release of a string of hardy hybrids. With 12 paw species identified in the wild, much of the hybridization has been about creating more robust, disease-resistant cultivars that can handle a broader range of climatic conditions and produce a wider array of colors across a variety of flowering heights.
The tallest Kangaroo Paws hybrids – those with flowering stems up to two metres high – are the longest living and most easy-care, while smaller cultivars tend to last only a few years.
Pioneering Kangaroo Paw breeder Keith Oliver has said that when he started breeding the plant, a member of the bloodwort, Haemodoraceae, family, in the 1960s he realized immediately that the towering Anigozanthus flavidus was “the one to go for”.
A. flavidus might not have particularly showy blooms (they are typically pale green-yellow) but when crossed with other Anigozanthos species you can amplify the effects. Cross it with A. rufus, say, and breeders have produced plants with red, burgundy or orange flowers. Partnering it with A. pulcherrimus has turned out plants with yellow, orange and red-and-yellow ones, while crossing it with and A. humilis has resulted in shorter cultivars suitable for pots. Crossing different forms of A. flavidus alone has made for some particularly vivid colours and tall forms.