Easy on eye; hard on nose

'I wondered what the smell was'

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 06:39 03/12/2013
sue esler
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ
SMELLY PLANTS: They look similar to corpse flowers and smell like them, but these Barnes St plants are just a distant relation, as owner Sue Esler discovered.

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The pretty, burgundy flowers Sue Esler picked from her garden and took inside on Sunday ponged so badly she had to put them back outside.

Looking like miniature corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanum), with a crimson sheaf as a backdrop to a long spadix and a mottled stem, and stinking like them too, it turned out they are actually distantly related.

Timaru District Council parks and recreation manager Bill Steans said Ms Esler's flowers are dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) and the reason for the dead animal stench is that they are pollinated by flies. They are native to the eastern Mediterranean.

The Timaru seamstress replanted the flowers from a friend's garden in Temuka about eight years ago.

This weekend was the first time she had noticed them flowering, though she admits she has not paid much attention to them as they were overgrown by hydrangeas and a rhododendron.

"I picked the flowers and put them in a vase. I wondered what the smell was so put them on the porch which brought all these flies in," she said.

She described the smell as being like rotten meat, so now the flowers are sitting outside in a vase.

"I didn't know what they were until a friend told me about one in Auckland recently."

The tropical glasshouse at the Auckland Domain Wintergardens showed off its 2.5 metre high blooming corpse flower on Sunday to crowds of curious onlookers.

The corpse flower grows in the wild in the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, and flowers a maximum of once every seven years.

Timaru has its very own Amorphophallus rivieri, which is closer to Auckland's Amorphophallus titanum than Ms Esler's flowers.

It flowered for the first time in Timaru's Botanical Gardens in 2006, during the big snow, then again last year. It reached a metre high and is also known as the devil's tongue or penis plant, due to its large and lumpy spadix.

Ms Esler will open her garden to members of the public who are interested in her dragon arum flowers from 5pm to 6.30pm today.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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