Elephant Yam (Amorphophallus)
Plants from the Amorphophallus genus are not commonly grown in the urban garden. Usually they are found in the care of plant collectors. They are a curio in the plant world, and rightly so.
What puts common gardeners off these plants is that the flower is considered unattractive by some. They certainly come in some interesting shapes. Readers with some knowledge of Greek or access to the internet might like to decipher ‘Amorphophallus’ for a clue to how they can look.
Another unusual feature is that when the flowers open they smell like rotting flesh or gas. The smell is generated in order to attract flies and other carrion insects which pollinate the flowers. While the flowers are producing the odour, they produce heat, with some species reaching the same temperature as a human body. Fortunately for growers, the smell only lasts for about 24 hours and the species with the strongest smells don’t flower every year.
The 180 species of Amorphophallus originate throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, excepting the Americas. They are found in rich, well drained soils under the canopy of trees. The plant will store energy in a tuber close to the surface which will allow it to lay dormant over the cool months. Ensure that the soil is dry during this period or lift the tubers for replanting in spring.
Aside from the fascinating flowers, Amorphophallus leaves are a striking addition to shaded areas of the summer garden.
My favourite is the Amorphophallus paeoniifolius or Elephant Yam. The flower takes about a week to develop before opening and I cannot resist a daily visit to examine the velvety red spadix emerge from a spathe that resembles an Elizabethan ruffled collar.
Some tubers are edible, though many are poisonous unless prepared correctly. The tuber of the Konjak is used to produce a firm, flavourless jelly in Japan, which is used in various savoury and sweet dishes.
Select some of the easier to grow Amorphophallus and have a curio to discover in your garden.