Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Olfactory edition

TPP walked into the glasshouse and immediately knew that the taro (Coleocasia esculenta) was in bloom. Generally most people don't notice the distinctive fragrance nor the actual "flower" which hides among the large leaves. This is an aroid, Jack-in-the-pulpit being the best known member of the family here abouts. So, what you really have here is a spike of flowers, an inflorescence known at the spadix,
surrounded by a modified leaf, a bract, known as a spathe. In the case of taro only half the spike is visible; the lower half is pretty tightly enclosed by the spathe. After flowering the upper part of the spike and the upper part of the spathe dry up and fall off. In this particular aroid, the flowers on the base of the spike are "female" and will produce fruits. The upper flowers are pollen producing "male" flowers. You can see the accumulation of pollen around the spike at the "waist" of the spathe. Sterile flowers separate the two and cover the top of the spike. The latter make a lot of fragrance, which is some aroids is a carrion odor. Taro isn't, but the fragrance is hard to describe, sort of a musky, heavy floral odor, not altogether pleasing but not revolting either. Several people noticed the odor today, but hadn't located the source, and it surprised them.  


Eric said...

It does have a strange acidic overtone. Somehow it reminds me of Pine-sol, but it really like that either. I wintered ours dry this year so won't have any flowers until outdoors when the fragrance isn't so noticeable.

Eric said...

Meant to say "isn't like that".

The Phytophactor said...

And not amyl acetate, that nail polish remover smell, either.