Tag Archives: Conservatory of Flowers

The Beautiful Tongue of the Devil (A. konjac)

Amorphohallus konjac at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco

Devil’s Tongue

Amorphophallus konjac

Family: Araceae

Sometimes called the Devil’s Tongue and also referred to as the Voodoo Lily (but an entirely different species from the Voodoo Lily featured here) this beautiful specimen was caught blooming and befouling the entire Lowland Tropics gallery at the Conservatory of Flowers this weekend! And I count myself among the lucky few who got to “enjoy” this disgusting delight of the rottenest botanist variety.

According to the Conservatory of Flowers: “Our bloomer is an amorphophallus konjac. Despite its unsavory odor, it’s actually used to make candy! It’s gelatinous excretions can be an ingredient, however we featured it in Wicked Plants, as the gelatin can often be so thick that children have choked.”

Apparently this Jello-like substance is used as a vegan substitute for gelatin and is made into the popular Asian fruit jelly snack, Lychee cups. (Adults have been known to choke on these too.) In fact, a quick google search will lead you to a number of products that feature konjac. Fiber-rich vitamin supplements are made from the tuber, and thought to promote healthy digestion and weight loss. The tuber is used in soups and stews, and you can even buy konjac flour. However parts of the plant are known to be poisonous. O’ the wonders never cease!

This particular Amorphohallus blooms about once a year, though it can skip a year or two, and must be kept in the tropical hothouse temperatures of the conservatory’s greenhouse or steamy main gallery.

How best to describe the smell? Acrid, cloying–like the body of a roadkill animal left in the noonday sun. A touch sulfuric. This is the kind of smell you can’t quite place but you know you have smelled it before. It is the smell of decay. It reminded me most of the smell when you have left flowers in a vase too long and you finally decide to toss them, thus disturbing the putrid water that has been writhing with bacteria for a week or more. You dump it out and are aghast at the end result of what was a gorgeous, cheerful bouquet.

The Amorphohallus konjac is a true rotanical!!!

I would guess this plant is about two feet tall, from stem to the very top of its spadix, which sticks out considerably from its beautiful spathe. It is an incredible burgundy color, very velvety. If you dare get up close enough to examine it! It is tricky to see from the pictures but there is a sign to the left which will give you a bit of perspective. I tried to make my son stand next to it but he wasn’t having it!!

Culture~

Height: 18-24″ (can sometimes grow larger)

Hardiness: To about 10 degrees.

Plant in shade in sunnier climates, prefers more sun in foggier or cooler climates. Keep outdoors when blooming if you don’t want you house to smell like a toilet.

The Devil's Tongue at the C of F

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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 Corpse Plant

The Corpse Flower

Amorphophallus titanum

Family: Araceae

Ah, The Corpse Plant also called The Corpse Flower, Amorphophallus titanum is the mother of all stinky arums. Often referred to as the Titan Arum, this plant is probably the ultimate Lovely Lily of Death (note: it is not actually a lily.) This plant is ENORMOUS! The leaf can grow up to twenty feet tall and wide, and the flower can grow to be up to nine feet tall. Like its distant cousins, the Voodoo Lily and the Black Calla, the Corpse Plant produces leaves every year but flowers less frequently. Usually it takes seven or so years of producing leaves, sucking up enough energy into the tuber to produce the massive inflorescence (which is actually a many smaller flowers stacked up to make the “one” bloom.)

The most distinguishing feature of the Titan Arum is its distinctive smell. When at last mature enough to produce a full fetid bloom beware! This thing smells like a rotting corpse. Probably more like a rotting carcass, like that of a dead whale or seal on a beach, than an actual human corpse, its foul smell also attracts visitors to whatever botanical garden is hosting the stink-party. I was a docent at the Conservatory of Flowers back  in 2005 when Ted the Titan, on loan from the UC Davis Botanical Gardens, bloomed in all its funky glory. People were lined up out the door of the Victorian conservatory just to get a glimpse, or in this case, a whiff. It is truly a sight to behold.

The flower looks like a giant version of the Voodoo or Vampire lily, with a massive spadix jutting out of its delicately ruffled outer petals. It has a blood-red interior and a green outer layer, often streaked with color like dripping blood!

The cultivation of such a plant is only recommended for individuals with very strong stomachs, decent biceps and good backs,  who are also in possession of a very, very large hothouse. It is native to Sumatra and does not like cold temperatures. The tuber alone on a mature plant can be over forty pounds!

Culture~

Height to 20 ft. (Flower to 9 ft.)

Requires warm temperatures, extremely high humidity. Even when dormant, do not expose to temperatures lower than 59 degrees.

This is Ted the Titan from the 2005 bloom at the SF Conservatory of Flowers.

Please note I did not take this photo though this is the same Corpse Flower I was lucky enough to spend time with. I got it from this guys website. He has tons of great photos and I hope he doesn’t mind that I snagged this. Full credit to: http://www.pbase.com/mtpuff/ted

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