Sunday 8 December 2013

Arums of Abhorrence

Image: sarah faulwetter
Good, ol' Arums! They're always there for you. What tropical bouquet would be complete without a few shiny Anthuriums bringing their deep red and pink colours to the mix? And if you want something more subdued and chaste then you need look no further than the beautiful arum lily. There's an arum for every occasion!

The Arum family is not famed for its Wolffia Duckweeds, the smallest flowering plants in the world, but they're exceedingly famous for containing the Titan Arum. That monstrosity can reach 3 metres (10 feet) tall but, as we have already learned, its close relatives are no less eye-catching for their smaller size!

Did you know that the arum lily is native to south Africa and is known as varkoor in Afrikaans? It translates to "pig's ear". So lets take a look at some more arums that make a pig's ear of it!

Image: Jörg Hempel
Dracunculus vulgaris
Common Dracunculus
The Common Dracunculus goes by a whole host of names, many of which are shared with a whole host of other arums. It's the Voodoo Lily, Stink Lily, Snake Lily, the Black Arum, Dragon Arum and several more. You could probably put them all together and simply call it the Dark and Foreboding Plant. And it is, but in an attractive way. Like one of those gloomy, brooding men women like so much, with all their temperamental unpredictability and massive list of "issues". The brooding men, I mean.

Dracunculus means "little dragon", the idea being that the big, purple leaf looks like the tongue of a fire-breathing dragon. One of those gloomy, brooding, fire-breathing dragons, I'm sure. Though I'd be gloomy too if I lost my entire body and was nothing but a 2 foot tongue. I couldn't even walk around with my throbbing chest glistening in the sun like in a Mills and Boon novel. Issues.

Image: Steven J. Baskauf
One cool fact about the Common Dracunculus is that it's native to Greece and the surrounding area, which is of course prime Byzantine Empire land. Those guys LOVED purple. There was even a "Purple Room" in the Imperial palace where the Empress gave birth to little emperors and empresses of the future. The little darlings were said to be "purple-born" or "in the purple". Alas, no-one ever said they were born with a purple spoon in their mouth.

Obviously this popularity wasn't purely because everyone thought purple was ever so pretty. It was also because the dye was so expensive to produce. It came from a kind of sea snail, and production involved collecting huge numbers of snails and dumping them in a vat to rot. The Common Dracunculas, common though it may be, gets it all for free. Take THAT, emperor!

Image: H. Zell
Cut away to show the flowers
The regal, purple leaf is known as the spathe, and it only lasts for about a week before it dies away. The big spike bit is the spadix and it bears lots of flowers at its base, deep within the spathe. For about one day, the Common Dracunculus stinks the place up with a pong that attracts flies and beetles to do the pollinating.

That's one good reason not to decorate your room with lots of Stink Lilies.

Image: Martin Bravenboer
Lysichiton americanus
Skunk Cabbage
We've seen a Skunk Cabbage before, it came from the eastern side of North America and was one of the first flowers of Spring. It was also an arum! Now we get to see the one that comes from the western side of North America, and it's still one of the first flowers of Spring! It just happens to smell a bit like a skunk.

It's also known as the Swamp Lantern because it grows in wet, marshy land and next to streams. It looks rather charming with those yellow spathes framing a spadix completely covered in flowers, which will later be completely covered in beetles and flies who like a bad smell.

There's a lesson there: just because you're pretty, it doesn't mean you can't stink with the best of them. Stink, my darling. Stink!

Image: dogtooth77
Orontium aquaticum
From south-east United States. the Goldenclub is an oddity among arums in that it has no spathe! Their spadices are held naked and aloft like ceremonial clubs.

Image: cotinis
They would have to be ceremonial because they look like they're made of silver and gold. It's what the more civilised cavemen used to propose marriage.

Goldenclub is pretty much aquatic; it grows in shallow lakes, streams, bogs and marshes. The leaves are waxy and water repellent and even their very cells have air spaces in between them to help with buoyancy.

Image: Biopix: JC Schou
Acorus calamus
Another strange one, Flagroot is completely green even when it's in flower. Their long, narrow leaves make it look like a kind of grass or wheat. Among such eye-catching company, it's absolutely astonishing for its breathtakingly humdrum appearance. Even the spathe looks like an ordinary, green leaf! I can hardly believe my eyes! WOW!

If you break one of the leaves open you'll be confronted with the stench of... tangerines. This may be why the Ancient Egyptians used it for making perfumes. Indeed, people in China, India and North America have used it as a medicine for thousands of years. You can even eat it!

It's an incredibly useful plant that has spread all over the northern hemisphere, where it grows in wetlands. This is one arum that broke all the rules by going legit.

Image: Eric in SF
Spathicarpa hastifolia
Yet another weird one. This oddity comes from South America and its spadix is directly attached to the spathe! The spathe in turn is green and looks like a perfectly ordinary leaf. It looks like a worm that would be completely camouflaged were it not for all the broccoli growing out of its body.

Image: Emilio
Arisarum simorrhinum
Friar's Cowl
OK, so it turns out a cowl these days is one of those massive, baggy neck brace things but in the olden days it was one of those massive, baggy robes worn by monks. This particular monk appears to have an enormous nose emerging from the darkness under his hood. He's also a lot more snazzy than most monks, with those sexy stripes and glistening white. He's off to the monk ball. I hear he's heresy on the dance floor! "If you got it, flaunt it", as monks never say.

This species comes from North Africa while the very similar A. vulagare is found across Europe and Asia. They have this strange spathe which has become a tube, almost like a Pitcher Plant. The flowers are all the way down at the bottom.

Image: Wikimedia
Caladium bicolor
Heart of Jesus
Friars are cool, but let's go straight to the heart of the matter. This is the Heart of Jesus, also known as Angel Wings and... Elephant Ear. One of these things is not like the others.

The flowers of this Brazilian species are small, dainty affairs which are completely overshadowed by their beautiful leaves. Each leaf may reach 45 cm (1.5 feet) long, every inch covered in any combination of green, white and pink blotches. They've been extensively cultivated so there are now hundreds of varieties. It's an amazingly versatile plant; there are white ones with pink veins, moody red ones and even black ones with purple blotches!

I'll just take this opportunity to say that if you are going to get your heart tattooed, make sure you give it a lot of thought and go to a reputable vendor. And be extremely careful showing it off. A heart is a fragile thing, especially with arums around...

Image: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Typhonium sp.
Here, for example, is a jug with a massive spike sticking out of it.

Image: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Sauromatum venosum
Here's a fancy vase with a massive spike sticking out of it.

Lasia spinosa
And here's a... massive spike. It looks a bit like a kris, those strange, wavy swords from Indonesia. I hear you can cut a guy real good with one of those things. Like I say, an arum for every occasion.


TexWisGirl said...

quite an exotic variety. odd but beautiful.

Joseph JG said...

Odd is the best kind of beautiful!