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An unusual plant with stinky flowers

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Courtesy of Doreen Howard

(Read caption) A pink bud appears in late February and starts growing six inches or more every day.

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In late February, I spotted plump pink buds pushing out of two amorphophallus ‘Konjac’ tubers I stored in the sunroom last Halloween. The big guy weighed 28 pounds and little one 14 pounds then.

All that flesh should ensure smelly flowers of at least six feet in height by the end of this month. [Be sure to scroll through all three photos above and the three additional ones at left.]

The flowers that rise from the tubers are known for an odor likened to the aroma of rotting flesh, and the purple spathe that encompasses them has been equated by plant provocateur Tony Avent to the color of vinyl seat covers from a 1967 Plymouth Barracuda.

The odor is designed to attract carrion flies, which flock to dead bodies. They pollinate the tiny flowers on the spadix of any amorphophallus in nature. I’ve done it indoors with a paint brush to create seeds that grow into tiny plants.

Tubers grow outdoors during the hotter months, and I dig them up for storage after the first killing freeze and let them dry in the garage for a month.

I should say the foliage stage of the plant grows during the summer. It’s the fluorescent spathe and tiny odiferous flowers on the spadex that arise from naked tubers in early spring.

After tubers bloom and the huge stem, spathe, and spadix sink into a mushy pool of rot, tubers rest a couple of months. I plant them outdoors at the end of May when any chance of a freeze is gone.

A single bud again emerges to grow into a five-to-six-foot-tall maroon and green mottled stem. Atop that, a single whirl of tropical-looking leaves appear.

After the first freeze or two in the fall, that stem, too, collapses into a pool of mush. Meanwhile, the tuber has increased in size and spawned others.

Konjac is grown as a crop in India, China, Japan, and Thailand and used to create a flour and jelly of the same name. It is also used as a vegan substitute for gelatin.

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