Garden Diary - May 2011

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Friday, 10 June 2011
Stinky Aroids

On Monday evening Paul put the garbage can out for tomorrow's collection. That means taking it down the driveway and putting it out by the street. When he came back in he said "Tomorrow you better look around. It smells like something died." Erm, no. It's another of my stinky bulbs. Dragon arum, Dracunculus vulgaris, is pollinated by carrion beetles. It's spathe is old meat red in color, and it stinks like rotting meat too. That's why I have it down at the bottom of the driveway rather than up by the house like the crown imperial, Fritillaria imperialis That smells sort of skunky, and doesn't bother me. Dragon arum, surprising for a tuber native to the Mediterranean region, is hardy here in New Jersey.

The spathe, getting ready to unfurl on June 7th.

Three days later, June 10th, arrayed in all its "glory".


One of my plants has leaves attractively marked with white cheverons.
The other two have plain green leaves. I've never seen any seeds.


And then there's Sauromatum, so named from the Greek sauros, a lizard, for its spotted spathe and long, tail-like appendage. This is not winter-hardy. I've had it for a number o years, digging the tubers every fall and storing them dry in the garage. Only last year I was a little late going out to dig and I couldn't find all the tubers. Even worse, this Spring when I went looking for them in the garage I didn't find them. In mid-May I called Brent and Becky's Bulbs and explained my sad tale. Did they have any Sauromatum left? Yes indeed. I ordered ten, and waited impatiently for their arrival.

They came. The weather was not cooperative, as in rain. Wet and rain. More rain. When it eased off to merely overcast I went out to plant. I'd been thinking of a work-around for Sauromatum's sensitivity to frost. Decided I'd dig the holes, amend with some compost. Set the bulbs, partially back-fill the holes and then add a layer of yellow sand before finishing filling the holes. That way if I had to dig with only withered foliage to guide me the yellow sand would indicate where the tubers were lurking.

Nice plump tubers, on a 1-inch grid. Starting to sprout too.

I had a cart, bucket of compost, another of sand, some fertilizer. Spading fork. Trowel - I decided to plant some Oxalis regnellii with it's purple leaves as another site marker. A) They'll look good together with the Sauromatum, which I really grow for their tropical foliage, and B) I had several pots of the oxalis breaking dormancy in the garage and no idea where to plant them.

I got three or four tubers planted. It started to rain. I'm stubborn, and I don't melt. I kept going. By now it's raining so hard I cannot see clearly through my eyeglasses and the rain actually stings a bit. Finally done. Collect the quite muddy tools, empty buckets, etc. and push the cart back up the driveway. As I get to the top my garage door opens. How nice, I think. Paul opened it for me so I don't have to go through the house with my muddy shoes. But he doesn't look happy. He explains that he didn't think anyone would be crazy enough to stay out in this weather and was about to come looking for me, sure I was collapsed somewhere in the woods. Oh dear. I apologized for worrying him. Stripped off my saturated clothes, stuffed newspaper in my soggy shoes, and took a nice warm shower.

Was it worth it?

Here's the Sauromatum in bloom, on June 7th, just a couple of weeks later.
I think this is the "dead animal" Paul smelled when putting out the garbage can.

I'm not the only one enamoured of these funky, stinky aroids. Here's a marvellous hand-colored lithograph, after Vishnupersaud, in Plantae Asiaticae rariores by Nathaniel Wallich, published in London: Treuttel and Würtz, 1830-32. Named Arum guttatum back then, the Flora of Pakistan today lists it as Sauromatum venosum. From the collection of the LuEsther T, Metz Library of the New York Botanical Garden and one of the images I chose as curator for their Buried Treasures exhibition a few years ago.

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