Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beauty & the Beast...a malodorous Arum

Welcome to the 'Honeymoon Hotel' for flies. On a cold foggy wet day in mid winter, when bees are notably absent from the garden, the only chance this Arum Lily has of being fertilized is to let off the smell of a refuse tip, a dung heap, a dead animal or a combination of all three. Most of the smell emanates from the shiny black rigid protuberance know as the Spadix . The adjoining petal like leaf or Spath is funnel shaped and acts as the landing strip for carrion insects. It often appears like a piece of uncooked liver or something splashed and blood stained.The actual flowers are minute and hidden down at bottom of the Spadix and appear as separate rows of male and female flowers. To make sure that the insects get to them, the Arum sets up what is known as 'trap-flower syndrome'. As they approach the centre, a treacherous slide of oiled cells sends then tumbling through a ring of hairy filaments at the entrance to the chamber. These filaments not only mimic the fur of a dead animal but stop larger insects from visiting which could damage the chamber. Once inside the insects are imprisoned for 24 hours and fed on a sticky sugary solution exuded by the female flowers. After this time the male phase begins, the filaments shrivel and the insects are released and showered by male pollen on departure.
And for Arums there is always the 'back up plan'. Underground there are lots of starchy tubers which are slowly being manufactured, storing food and taking over the role of parent when the heat of summer makes the whole plant shrivel and disappear until autumn rains starts the cycle all over again.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderfully interesting post! I have seen some of these smelly guys in the jungles of the Western Ghats.