Thursday, May 2, 2024

Spring and the Dead Horse Arum

Amorphophallus konjac is one of our reliable Spring bloomers. The flower emerges from a giant (like 20 pound) potato-esque tuber without any leaves around the start of April for us. the flower bud rises to about four or five feet tall, then opens. The leaf will show up in about a month...
We have more than one variety of this species, this just happens to be the most reliable bloomer for us (and the one that flowers with the smallest tubers - they don't have to become giant before flowering!). This is this one in bud, when we repotted it with the emerging flower bud compared to another variety of the same species that has a tuber that is still too small to flower every year:
When repotting, generally there are many smaller "offset" tubers that grew from the main tuber the previous season. We pot these up and grow them on to become larger tubers we can sell or give away (excellent surprise value gifting one of these in bud, under the right circumstances and to those who will appreciate the oddity). These are the small propagation tubers found in this repotting cycle. In two or three years time, each will be large enough to flower. This is also handy when growing these as a food crop, as you can harvest the big ones and replant the smaller ones.
Once the flower is finished, it remains Meme-worthy - I don't think I can describe this properly with words:
These flowers are unlikely to grace any florist - they smell like rotting flesh and are pollinated by flies. Definitely an outdoor plant, for a place with neighbors that are tolerant folks! The smell only lasts a few days, and with a little wind doesn't become too strong.

These plants are grown for food - the tubers are processed and eaten. Ever see Konjac noodles or konnyaku in Japanese grocers? Those are made from this plant. Konjac is also made into what translate roughly as "yam cakes", though admittedly plain Konjac is bland (to my taste buds) so appears to be often used as a textural element in food where other ingredients provide the main flavors.

To grow Konjac, the main thing is to keep the root completely dry from Fall until mid-Spring, or whenever the soil is warmed up a bit from Winter lows. It doesn't tolerate frost while in growth, though I know people growing it outdoors in the Carolinas in the ground. We use a commercial cactus mix that we then mix 50:50 or even 1:2 with straight perlite to make the soil airy and to prevent waterogging, even in large pots. Once the flower or leaf emerge, it is a thirsty plant that wants regular fertilizer.

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