Chris’ Curiosities

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Chris’ Curiosities

Hello, and welcome to the inaugural edition of Chris’ Curiosities, a semi-regular column where I discuss some of the more interesting and unique plants which can be found in Flamingo Gardens. 

Ewwwww! What's that horrible smell? Elephant Foot Yam Flower

 In today’s edition, we dive into the weird world of Arums (Araceae), by looking at one of the more interesting varieties which can be seen in the garden, the elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius(USDA).

 While the elephant foot yam is overshadowed by its more famous cousin, the titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum, this less-showy relative is a fascinating and economically important plant in its own right. 

 As the name suggests, the elephant foot yam is edible, and is consumed as a staple food crop in many countries across tropical Asia. These yam-like corms can grow quite large and typically weigh about 8 pounds, but can grow to a size of 30 pounds and 2 feet across (Cornell University). 

Elephant Foot Yams, a food crop in tropical Asia

 As a food crop these tubers are cooked in a manner similar to yams or potatoes and are a part of many dishes such as curries, chutneys, kebabs, and chips ( 

 The foliage of the elephant foot yam is also of interest, as each corm produces a single leaf which emerges in the spring after a winter dormancy. The lacy, palmately divided leaf bears a striking appearance and resembles an oversized, mottled stalk of celery which grows to about 3 feet in height.  

Amorphophallus paeoniifolius leaves.

 Now on to the most interesting part of the plant, the flower. The inflorescence, which occasionally emerges in the spring before the leaves, is a highly specialized stalk which has evolved to attract flies as pollinators. The sheathe (spathe) and top of the flower stalk (spadix) are the color of red meat. The bulbous end of the spadix secretes a rotten-meat smelling mucus, which attracts flies to visit the flowers in search of food. While visiting the flowers, the flies transfer pollen from the separate male flowers to the female flowers on the stalk below. 

Male and female flowers of Elephant Foot Yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius.

 The Elephant Foot Yam is just one of about 90 species of Amorphophallus,  which are in the Aroid family, Araceae, which contains some 3,750 individual species.

  Well, that about wraps up this first edition of Chris’ Curiosities, I hope this brief foray into the world of Aroids piques your interest to learn more about this wonderfully weird family of plants.

When you visit Flamingo Gardens you can see this and many more varieties of Aroids and other interesting plants throughout the year!

 Text and Photos by Chris Maler, Director of Horticulture.