Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Weird Nature

Dracunculus vulgaris - the name positively reeks with warning signs. Just say it slowly to yourself, over and over. It gets scary. Appropriate to the Dragon Lily - its traditional name in Greece.

In real life, the plant has wonderful, almost "tropical" foliage. But it is still weird. Large palmate leaves (i.e., resembling a hand, with finger-like lobes on the leaves). The stems of the plant are green and white spotted. Then, the long flowering spathe develops - about 40 cm long (or about 18 inches) long. Most members of the Arum family - related to the white Arum lily - have a prominent bract, or modified leaf surrounding the minute true flowers on the central columnar structure. In this case the spathe is green on the outside, like an unfurled leaf, before it's dramatic unfurling occurs.

Suddenly there it is, in its full spectacular horridness! Purplish-red inside of the spathe, the wrapper surrounding the spectacular flower spike (called a "spadix").
Feel free to click on the links, and use the "back" button to return to this page. On the second and subsequent days, the spathe flops over and hangs outwards, like a long purple tongue. Mick Jagger - eat your heart out! The Dragon Lily, Snake Lily, or Voodoo Lily has arrived. And it warrants each of these names.

Despite the obvious penile appearance of the spadix, it is in fact a bisexual organ (not just male). I do not know why the spadix is so long, for all the "action" occurs low down, inside a cup-like fold of the spathe. There, low down on the spadix, are found masses of tiny flowers, male flowers just above the female flowers.

The piece-de-resistance is its odour! This "flower" emits the odour, no, the "smell" of rotting meat! This is not accidental, for its pollinators are flies and beetles, which are attracted to the carrion smell. The scent glands are probably separate organs inside the "cup" at the base of the spathe - perhaps associated with the striped markings, which may be seen in the linked photos.

Plant biologists have made detailed studies of pollination in the Aroid family. In order to prevent self-pollination, the female flowers always ripen before the male flowers, but the pollinating beetles and flies are enticed to stay inside the cup-like housing around the base of the spadix - often overnight - and then the male flowers open, and suddenly release their pollen. At this stage the scent-producing glands are "switched off". The "guest" insects are often showered with pollen, before they leave the flower, and go off in search of another "ripe" flower.

Despite its "tropical" appearance, this plant is native to Greece and the Balkans, and is perfectly at home in the highlands climate of Robertson, NSW.

There is a local Aroid, the plant known as "Settler's Flax" (
Gymnostachys anceps). As its name suggests, it has long thin leaves. It has insignificant flowers, on a long thin flower stem, up to 2 metres high. However, its berries are prominent, being a porcelain blue colour. This plant is common in the Robertson Nature Reserve.


Anonymous said...

I planted my Dragon Lily bulb four years ago and it bloomed for the first time today! It was well worth the wait but the smell was a bit of a shocker. I'm thrilled with it and I enjoyed watching the flies and beetles take such an interest in the flower.

Denis Wilson said...

Well done.
Obviously you are not in Australia - seasons all wrong.
Great flowers, but very smelly.
Our Beetles love them.