The Dragon Arum

Dracunculus vulgaris has to be one of the most distinctive plants available to the unusual plant collector. Growing from a tuber to be a tall plant, the 'Dragon Arum' makes a feature wherever it thrives. The real joy though comes from it's inflorescence....

Quite a feature as you can see! The whole inflorescence is held above two leaves which are diagonally opposite each other and split down into smaller leaflets; the effect is almost of a giant Arum on top of a small tree!

The flies are attracted by both the foul smell and the appearence of the plant- the maroon spathe and spadix to a fly looks like meat, and the smell tells the fly the meat is starting to rot.

Once at the plant the fly starts looking for somewhere to lay it's eggs, so it moves down and past the neck of the spathe. The spadix as you see it in the photos here is purely for decoration- the male and female flowers are at the base of the spadix, inside where the spathe bulges out at the bottom. These tiny flowers never see the light of day, and they don't have to as the rest of the inflorescence has already attracted the flies! As the flies search around the base of the spadix for somewhere to lay their eggs they transfer pollen from another Dracunculus and if the timing is right they will pick up some pollen to take away to another Dracunculus flowering nearby. It's worth mentioning here that the flies don't get to lay their eggs on the Dracunculus, they leave disappointed; don't worry, you don't get a plant covered in maggots!

 Stem detail. The central stem supports the inflorescence whilst the stems either side                support the leaves.

Dracunculus canariensis is a very rare and very beautiful plant. In this species both the spathe and spadix are pure white, and the scent is strong and fruity. My guess is that D. canariensis is pollinated by fruit flies, hence the lack of carrion colours and a foul smell! The inflorescence is smaller that D. vulgaris, but is still quite large, and the stems and leaves are pretty much the same as D. vulgaris. Dracunculus like a sunny open position away from strong winds, and good drainage is essential.

Sadly D. canariensis is tender, but the tubers of D. vulgaris will tolerate a little frost if planted deep; I would either lift them and store them, mulch them heavily, or even consider growing one in a deep pot. See my feature on growing aroids in pots for more details.