Series: "Wild flowers of Crete"
(the following info is obtained from "Flowers of Chania"-Website)
Dracunculus vulgaris is the most spectacular of the European aroids. It belongs to the Araceae and is related to the well-known Arum. Dracunculus vulgaris is generally called Dragon Arum, Voodoo Lily, Dragonwort, or Stink(y) Lily. In Greece it is called Drakondia. Like all Araceae, it prefers fertile moist soil and can be found in undisturbed olive groves and waste land.
The foliage is very attractive. The stalks (actually pseudostems), which have only as few as two to four large leaves on the top, make the plants already very pretty. The plant is a rather robust, solitairy (seldom a clump-forming) herb, sometimes up to 2 m high. The pseudostems are a half to more than one-and-a-half meter long, pale to light-grey-green with numerous jagged dark purple to almost black markings, stout and capable of supporting an inflorescence of over one meter in length without the need for additional support. The leaf lamina are reniform in outline, pedate, with the mid-lobes larger than the posterior lobes, at the top ending with a little curl. The leaves can be up to 45 cm, bright mid- to deep green, with 7 to 19 (or even more) elliptical leaflets, many times with streaks or markings, that are shiny, nearly transparent windows. The leaves normally die back during blooming.
But the beauty at this stage barely hints of the amazement that is still to come: as the inflorescence unfolds, it reveals a long, black appendage from the center, known as the spadix, which can reach a total length of 135 cm (!!!) enveloped by a large very deep purple-black bract, the spathe, which can reach a total length of 125 cm (!!!). What looks like one flower is in reality an inflorescence of a spadix, bearing numerous flowers. In most plants the inflorescence is not longer than 40 or 50 cm – still impressive enough! The actual flowers - both male and female - are hidden deep inside the spathe, which features a bulbous chamber.
The striking beauty of this plant can be a little shocking: like many Araceae the mature inflorescence spreads a nauseous dungy rotten meaty odor. The nasty smell of rotting meat is designed to attract flies for pollination. Fortunately the smell usually lasts for only one day.
The potential pollinators (mostly colorful shiny carrion flies, but Staphylinid and Scarabidinid beetles have also been reported) enter the spathe tube and gain access to the flowers by descending the spadix appendix.
Image: Sougia (Crete) - 14/04/2010
© Johan Dierckx
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