Monday, 18 January 2010



One of the big advantages for a gardener in the tropics is the opportunity to attempt to grow the weird and wonderful. Many members of the plants family Araceae the aroids or as Prof Herbert Baker at UC Berkeley called them “Man and ladies plants and 70 other names not repeatable in mixed company”! The elongated spathe is responsible for this situation! The family is widespread and most people reading this would have some as houseplants wherever they are. Philodendrons, Peace lilies, Monsteras, Dieffenbachias and Cryptocoryne aquarium plants are some popular examples. In the garden Calla lilies and Anthuriums are good examples. The Taro of commerce is an edible example but these plants usually are rich in oxalic acid and generally it is not a good idea to eat them without special preparation. [However, the Brush Turkey is unaffected in this respect. But it may be the reason that the birds have such caustic personalities. These birds can dismantle even the largest of aroids, maybe not at one attack, but over time they can reduce the plant to shreds.] Believe it or not, the closest relatives of this group of plants are the Duckweeds, formerly Lemnaceae, now a subfamily of the Aracecae. That’s right Jim! So in this family you have members with one of the world’s smallest flowers and others with the largest. But I digress.

Dracontium in a pot. Seems s bit cruel for such a large plant to be potted in such cramped surrounds. But the corm is really small compared to the rest of the plant. The stem is hollow.

I photographed this wonderful specimen of Dracontium sp. at Finca La Selva, Costa Rica in 1969!

One of the most interesting aroids, and one that has caught on the Cairns region are members of the genus Amorphophallus and their close relatives. Yes, you read right. Looking like a misshapen phallus is the literal translation of the genus name. These plants are spectacular for a number of reasons. From a small corm you can often get a most spectacular result. Not only are the flowers weird and wonderful, but the green portions are equally stunning. The flower of A. titanium can reach 2.5 m high and be 1.5 m in width, fancy that. All of these plants have habits that are as interesting as the flowers. Most have a disgusting smell that is meant to attract flies or beetles that effect pollination.

When A. titanium flowers, it’s a big deal. The group below is viewing a flowering plant in Brooklyn!

Australia has a couple of Amorphophallus species that appear to occur here naturally, at least many botanists think that’s the case. These occur mostly on the Cape York Peninsula. The Elephant Foot Yam, A. paeoniifolius (Dennst.) Nic. has been found on northern Cape York. It is easy to grow and is not very big but provides a most spectacular flower. It grows throughout south Asia and probably gets moved around through human commerce. The roots may be edible.

Amorphophallus paeoniifolius. Note the blowfly to the right. It has been attracted by the opdour and thinks it's close to blowfly heaven.

Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, same plant dorsal view.

A. bulbifera gets me every year when it flowers, especially if I am unaware that one is in flower. The flower sets off an odour similar to that of LPG gas. I always think a rat has punctured a gas line until I find the flowering culprit. Interesting plants and well worth growing. Even the big ones do well in pots. this is not a native species and should br grown with care as it seems to have “weedy” tendencies in suitable habitats.

A. bulbifera, a very easy plant to grow but it has weedy tendencies. Not known to occur naturally in Australia.


Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks for that enlightening post, Dave. Very interesting!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Dave
Some of my favourite plants in there.
I grow Dracunculus vulgaris, as well as some of the more common Zantedeschias (formerly Calla Lilies).
I love the simplicity of your A. bulbifera.
The Amorphophallus titanium is one of the most ridiculous flowers of all time. I say that admiringly!
As a Peony grower, I am puzzled at the name of your Amorphophallus paeoniifolius. Presumably the leaves develop after the flower.
Interesting stuff.

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