10 December, 2009

Stinky Flowers

While Teaching in the Torres Strait I came across this plant in fruit. I asked a group of young adult males what they called it. A hushed and giggling discussion followed until one of them approached me shyly and said behind his hand that they call it "Penis Flower." They were horrified when I said so do the scientists, they call it "Amorphophalus,"
Amorphophallus grow from Australia to south-east Asia. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes but this one which can approach two metres is the largest I know of. The plant is deciduous. After the first rains a single leaf or a flower spike appears.
Once open the smell is that of a rotten mammal. It can easily turn a sensitive stomach.
Flies on the other hand love it and come from miles around. There were six species of flies on the flower before I removed it from the garden so I could eat my meal in the house.
Here you can see the masses of male and female flowers.

Actephila foetida is aptly named but not nearly as strong in its scent as the amorphophalus. Rather than flies it is pollinated by beetles. This group of insects are very important pollinators in the Australian rainforest. Use the flowers as a scale and you will see that although these beetles look very similar the top one is half the length of the bottom one.This 'interesting' smelling Gossia is also pollinated by beetles but they would fly off as I approached so I photographed this one on a Grevillea where it was feeding on nectar.

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