Amorphophallus sp.

The amorphophallus sp. may be a  weirdo, but at least it's not a Speedo-clad German.


I’m not sure about weirdos. Can I still call people "weirdos", or have they now been transformed into “persons of an unusual or eccentric disposition”? Some weirdos are of course easier to cope with than others.

We all kind of respect the inevitable neighborhood nutter without actually admitting it. We have no problem with the fact that he wanders down the street mumbling to himself, pointing a twig at cars as they pass, or saunters past wearing nothing but a red sarong and carrying a battered guitar. Totally harmless.

It’s the sane weirdos, the kind of do whatever it is they do deliberately, that are far more annoying. Body builders are a case in point. They spend their lives building up huge biceps using any means they can, then choose to don a pair of Speedos and do that ridiculous muscle-flexing thing in competitions. Very weird.

Speedos, unless they’re donned for sporting purposes, are weird in themselves, as are the grown men that strut up and down the beach wearing them, swaggering all the way; the beer belly overspill is always a bonus. Yeuch. It’s almost as if they’re screaming out “Hey girls – look at me. I’m cool”. Actually, you’re not. You’re a complete prat.

A punk rocker once had a go at me, for “looking at them”. It was a few years ago now. This buffoon had a bright pink Mohican haircut, Doc Marten boots almost up to his knees, and was adorned in safety pins. What did he expect people to do? Come up to him and congratulate him on his magnificent appearance? The last thing that you can do is ignore him, really.

The ladies can be equally guilty of inviting looks, then getting upset when that’s exactly what red-blooded males do. What else is going to happen when a lady dons a tight-fitting, low-cut top and a miniskirt (not that they’re sported by weirdos of course)? I’m all in favor if it, but unfortunately, you may find my eyes wandering southward somewhat on occasion.

Back to the gents. Specifically, those gentlemen who chose to fit little blue lights to their vehicles, or even worse attach colored fluorescent lights underneath. Are they expecting some kind of undercar night-time emergency? If so, it’s most considerate of them to make the life of the mechanic called out at midnight easier, as he can just crawl straight under there and get to work.

In order for this forward thinking to work though, we need to assume that his body is only three inches thick, because the same weirdos are likely to have chopped away a chunk of the springs. This bizarre car-lowering ritual has four amazing effects:

Primarily of course it makes the car or pickup look totally ridiculous, but taking away part of the suspension has the added bonus of an extremely uncomfortable ride and the total inability to go over speed bumps without ripping of the bolted-on front spoiler. It also means that the vehicle isn’t very good at going round corners any more. Genius.

You knew it was coming – plant weirdos. There are some bizarre plants around. A few weeks ago a Gazette reader emailed me at and asked me if I had any idea what the plant in the picture was. He said that it was one of only two specimens on a hillside at the back of Bang Tao, and that it was 50 cm tall and only lasted a few weeks before dying.

I have to admit, I hadn’t a clue, initially – I had to ask. It’s an amorphophallus sp., and one of the true weirdos of the plant world. I can’t even tell if the “sp.” part is a shortened version of something else or if that’s all they could come up with. My Latin is hardly extensive (in fact doesn’t really extend beyond Anno Domini), but the epithet hardly leaves much to the imagination.

Amorphophallus is a fair-sized genus of about 170 species from the Old World tropics, (so they’ve been around for a while) and belongs to the Aroid family. They grow from a corm-like tuber that usually produces just a single dramatic leaf. This leaf comprises a strong, spotted or marbled petiole topped with an umbrella-like leaf lamina – the technical name for the blade or expanded portion of a leaf.

On most varieties, the lamina is divided basically into three divisions but these are divided again and again to give an extremely complex leaf shape. Depending on the species and the size of the starting tuber the leaves vary from large to huge and give the impression of small palm trees rather than leaves.

The inflorescences, which can be quite big, are among the most weird and bizarre in the plant kingdom, perhaps appealing most to those with a taste for the decidedly odd. Depending on your sensitivities, one possible drawback is that the plants use flies and beetles as pollinators and to attract them, the mature inflorescence often smells of rotting meat. This can be somewhat off-putting in a confined space but removing the inflorescence before it opens neatly solves this ‘problem’ and allows you to enjoy the leaf, which has no smell at all, fully.

Apparently, it seems that specific fragrance profiles attract specific insect pollinators. For example, the titan arum (amorphophallus titanium) and carrion flower (stapelia giganteum) attract beetles and flies that feed on or lay eggs in rotting flesh. Nice. The flowers’ smelly tendencies are hardly surprising then. Different but specific scents also help to encourage insects to visit flowers of a similar species, increasing the potential for successful cross-pollination.

Plant smells probably serve to make it easier for insects to find the visual cues of the flowers; there are those that say that plant fragrances may well have evolved before visual flower signals. From a long distance, fragrance is more effective than visual signals at attracting a pollinator, especially to a small or hidden flower.

Anyway, back to the weirdo, the amorphophallus. Although I can’t even begin to suggest where the Bang Tao amorphophallus might have appeared from, as they grow from tubers. I presume you can buy these locally, but I have to admit I’ve never tried. If you do get hold of any of the tubers on the island, don’t do so literally – put on some latex gloves before handling them. Amorphophallus plants and tubers contain oxalic acid and may be harmful to your skin.

Check your tuber for desiccation (in other words make sure it’s not dry or shriveled) and check that there’s no rotting or softness. Sometimes they feel slimy or mushy – not good. Keep any rotted tubers separate from all other tubers, as this may spread.

In theory, the tuber will grow without soil but they generally grow faster when they are potted. The usual coconut husk compost is fine, but don’t over-water them, and make sure there’s plenty of space in the pot to allow for expansion. Let it do its thing for a while, and it won’t take long to produce a few weirdos.

If it came to the choice between a smelly plant and a fat, Speedo-clad German sitting in your garden, I think the choice is fairly clear. Were it human, this plant would probably be a punk rocker, come to think of it – its sole purpose is to attract attention while at the same time trying to blend in. They’re all weirdos.



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