Category Archives: Fetid Florals

You Lousy Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus foetidus

Stinking Hellebore. Also Dungwort, Bear’s Foot

Family: Ranunculaceae

Not just a botanical insult the Stinking Hellebore is actually one of the least stinky of the foul-smelling plants. This shade loving perennial gets its name not from a foul flower but rather from the stinky smell when the leaves are stems are crushed. The classic variety of this Euro-and English native (also parts of Greece and Asia Minor) sports a pale green to yellowish-white, fice petaled flower but can even have purple edging. Hybrids commonly sold today include deeper purple flowers.

H. foetidus is a unique plant in that to date it is the only plant discovered that uses yeast to produce heat. According to an article in New Scientist from February, 2010 author Shanta Barley writes:

A European herb, the stinking hellebore, is the only plant discovered so far that relies on another organism to generate heat for it. Other plants, like the famous “corpse flower” whose blooms smell of rotting flesh, warm up by breaking down salicylic acid, or by tracking the sun’s movement.

 Which means that its nectar hosts colonies of yeast which it is believe attract certain pollinators. (This may also account for the issues I’ve always had with sticky aphids infesting my Stinking Hellebores!)
Plant in your garden in shade to part sun, this is a hardy and lovely addition to any garden. Grows to about 18″-24″ high and about as wide. Generally hardy to about 10 °F but I am told this can survive below zero in the right, well mulched and established garden bed. Moderate water. Great pollinator attractor, especially bees.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, causing violent vomiting and delirium. Ethnobotany, especially in the regions of Southern Italy, suggests that the poisonous qualities were used in folk medicine, including as an abortifacient. Decoctions of the leaves can be used as a topical treatment against parasites and fleas. The root of the plant is a heart stimulant.
H. foetidus is one of more than a dozen similar flowering perennials that belong to the Helleborus genus, with flowers that vary from white to pink to deep purple, nearly black. Check out hellebores.org for everything you ever wanted to know about hellebores! 
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Dead Horse Arum!

I love this photo because it has a fly on it!

Helicodiceros muscivorus

Dead horse Arum or Dead Horse Lily

Family: Araecea

(Synonyms are Helicodiceros crintius and Dracunculus crintitus–I prefer this one of course!)

This Mediterranean island native  is, next to the Corpse Plant, the category killer for rotten botanicals. Like it’s odoriferous cousins the Voodoo Lily and the Vampire Lily, The Dead Horse Arum lures flies and carrion beetles to its pollen coated stamen with the alluring smells of rotting meat, or rotting flesh of horses.(And like its cousins Voodoo and Vampire, it is also not really a lily.)

This beauty sports a wide inflorescence, with a somewhat phallic spadix (well, have you met a spadix that isn’t phallic?) which is made up of tiny male and female flowers. What is referred to as the flower is actually a modified leaf (spathe) plus spadix made up of tiny flowers. The spathe is moddled, usually a rich shade of red but can have some green and even white. The spadix is typically black or deep maroon.

The Dead Horse Arum is also one of a rare group of thermogenic plants. It can raise its own temperature, a handy trick to convince those flies that it really is hot, dead, flesh. How rotten is that? The Corpse Plant does this as well.

Incidentally, other plants that are thermogenic include the Elephant Ear philodendron and certain water lilies. Who knew?

Similar to other arums or aroids the Dead Horse Arum goes dormant. It is grown from a corm and likes a nice hummus rich soil, does great in containers, and can even withstand a bit of a temperature drop, as long as its buried snugly in a said hummus-y soil. I expect this would do well in most climates if kept in a container and properly mulched/brought into a hot house for the winter. That being said, I’m spoiled in my Mediterranean San Francisco climate and wonder if any of you inlanders, Southerners, or Northern Europeans have any experience growing this savory rotanical? Let us know !

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Dead Horse Arum Rises from the Earth

A reader of Rotten Botany gracioulsy sent me pictures of this gorgeous Dead Horse Arum that came up in the garden of her  home in the Sierra Foothills in spite of a heavy snowfall this winter. As she wrote to me, it is located in the back corner of the garden so its scent isn’t too permeating.

I agree with the owner that this is a Dead Horse Arum. The Arum Konjac or Devil’s Tongue has a red stamen, and the Voodoo Lily has a moddled stem. The Vampire Lily seems to have more of a ruffled edge to the flower but it does look similar to this. They are all members of the same Araceae family. mmmm..ARUMS!

Thanks, Mary A. for this amazing pictures. I have to admit, I am super jealous. I’ve always dreamed of moving into an overgrown garden with hidden creepers and fetid florals lurking beneath the ivy. Who planted this arum there? It was no accident. Read more about the Dead Horse Arum on Rotten Botany HERE.

And if you have pictures of any unsusal plants growing let me know!

Dead Horse Arum in GVArum in gardnedead horse arum two

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The Flowers of the Dead

In the spirit of skullduggery, here are a few photos from my trip to Mexico during the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. A celebration at the end of October/beginning of November that culminates in the Noche de Muertos, or Night of the Dead from midnight on November 1st to midnight on November 2nd. The weeks and days leading up to the holidays are filled with sugar skulls and treats and all night “pop-up” flower markets. Although the time when the dead pass into the graveyard is a somber and silent occasion, the nights and hours before and after are full of revelry: drinking, building floral displays, and remembering. Entire families camp out in the graveyards and work together to honor their beloved departed. November 1st is typically a night to honor children and those who are lost souls. The following evening is in honor of all the dead, and it is believed especially powerful to make offerings to anyone who has passed on in the last year. Special breads are baked and tied to the headstones and flower arrangements, meals are laid out and altars are everywhere. It is magical and mystical. Here are a few pictures that show some of the floral extravaganza. We visited the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Much of the time we spent was in Patzcuaro.

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Amorphophallus Amungus

A quick note to let you know that the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco currently has a blooming stinky amophophallus. I am not sure what variety, but it does not appear to be a titan arum. There are more than 150 plants known as amorphohallus so I will report back on the exact kind when I return, and I will post pics too! 

It’s a rare, er, treat to see and smell one of these fantastic and foul beauties. They only bloom for a few days at most so you have a pretty brief window. And some species go for years in between blooms. 

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The Lovely Lilies of Death

The Lovely Lilies of Death! Who knew you could grow such novelties as Black Callas, Vampire Liles, Voodoo Liles, and more? The Rotten Botanist, that’s who! This week, Rotten Botany is “dead”icated to some of my all time favorite flowers–what I call the lovely lilies of death. Today, we begin with The Black Calla.

The Black Calla Lily

Botanical Name: Arum palaestinum

Family: Tracheae

You know those classic funereal flowers so often draped across a coffin or propped up in the corner of the parlor room during a wake? They are white with a yellow spike in the center, and if you grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area they very likely grew in your back yard. That would be the classic white Calla Lily,  Zantedeschia aethiopica. The Black Calla Lily, Arum palaestinum, is not a true Calla Lily though they are both members of the same greater family, Araceae. The Black Calla’s spathe is terribly special! Usually it has a greenish exterior that unfurl to reveal a the deep maroon color of the flower with an intensely black spike (spadix) thrusting out of the middle. with a tapered tip that dangles behind it like a tail.  In milder climates, like the one I live in, this plant can can be grown outdoors. Like its distant cousin the white calla, it thrives in sandy soil and can be planted in the shade to partial shade. In climates with a colder snap in the winter it is better suited to be a hot-house or houseplant. But be cautious. Like many of its morbid cousins, there is a faint fetid odor that is emitted when this plant is in full bloom. This is thought to attract its pollinators, usually flies and gnats.

Culture~

Height: Grows from 18-24”.

Hardiness: to 25 º

Light shade, regular water, mildly acidic soil.  Quite likes neglect.

Original native of the Middle East

You can keep it in a pot for a long time, just remember that it dies back completely and loves the rain, so mark the pot well and set it out somewhere it will absorb rain for the winter. Don’t let the “empty” pot fool you! Mine produced only leaves for several years and then bammo! One year in mid-April it bloomed in all its glory.

My Black Calla in bloom!


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