We experienced our first heat wave in the Philadelphia area last week. I felt the tropical humidity bearing down on my skin as soon as I walked outside. Despite my disdain for oppressive heat and humidity, I guess ‘hot and sticky’ is better than ‘hot and stinky’. Unless you are a plant of course.
The foliage and flower of Amorphophallus are hot, but the scent? That’s where the real stink comes in. Also known as corpse plant, Amorphophallus are designed to smell like rotting flesh to attract their pollinators, the flies. Flies are drawn to the scent and in turn pollinate the flower.
The good news is the stink is short-lived. But it is powerful. A few years ago, Longwood Gardens displayed Amorphophallus titanium or Titan Arum to the public. People lined up for days to catch a glimpse of this natural wonder.
Some of my plant collector friends seek out unique specimens of Amorphophallus, sometimes known as the Voodoo Lily. More rare forms have remarkable foliage, spectacular flowers or both. Amorphophallus are fascinating plants since they don’t typically bloom every year and experience alternating periods of dormancy and growth. Plants grow up to ten feet tall making them the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world.
When I look at Amorphophallus I find it hard to believe the flowers are real. I’m also amazed by Mother Nature’s design to create that something so beautiful that smells so awful. While I don’t intend to collect Amorphophallus or add one to my landscape, I’ll continue to be wowed by their form and function. Maybe one day I’ll even travel to a part of the world where I can see them growing in the wild on the limestone cliffs in Thailand or in the hot and humid climate of Sumatra. If you have the opportunity to see an Amorphophallus in bloom and take a whiff, go for it. Trust me when I say it’s an experience you will never forget.