SAUROMATUM VENOSUM (syn. S. guttatum) (monarch of the East, voodoo lily)

13 deg C/55 deg F

The sale of the tubers of this North-west Indian plant has become an annual event, usually in early spring. Despite this, few people seem to know much about the plant’s characteristics or culture. As purchased, the plant takes the form of a flattish bulb. For the best results, buy the largest you can and check that it is firm and in good condition. Sometimes the plant is named Arum cornutum, and may appear in bulb lists under this title. This plant has gained publicity because the tuber will flower without soil or water, and it is often given to children to grow as a novelty. The tuber can be gently pressed into a little sand in a saucer to keep it firm, and placed on a warm window-sill. Soon, a shoot will grow from the centre, and once this is seen things happen quickly. The shoot will form into a very strange arum-like flower. which strictly should be described as an inflorescence. It has a very long spathe, which soon grows too long to stay erect and therefore trails. The spathe is purple-spotted and the inflorescence may often, at this time, emit a very unpleasant smell, like rotting meat. This attracts flies and bluebottles. which is just what the plant wants for pollination. However, whether or not this performance is an attractive one is a matter of opinion, and most people might prefer to put the plant outside during this period. Unfortunately many inexperienced growers, feeling a little cheated, discard the plant altogether after flowering. This is a great pity because the next stage is a really impressive and pleasing one. In any case, the inflorescence lasts for only a couple of days. If the tuber is now put into a 13cm (5in) pot of potting compost, planting about 2.5cm (1 in) deep, and kept moist, another shoot will soon appear. This

develops into a strong, brightly spotted stem bearing a large palm-like leaf. This consists of a number of slightly glossy large leaflets borne on a ring-shaped stalk at the top of the supporting stem. The foliage lasts until autumn and during this time the plant is most attractive and unusual. When the foliage begins to die down, cease watering and let the pots become dry. The corm can then be removed and stored in dry sand for the winter, ensuring the temperature does not tall below 13 deg C (55 deg F). Often a number of little bulbs (offsets) are produced, and these can be separated and individually potted for propagation. However, it may take some years for these to become large enough to give satisfactory results.

A suitable tuber should be at least Iocm (4in) across. During the leaf production stage, the plants can be well watered and if the tubers are to be saved they should be well fed with a liquid feed. Only aphids are likely to be troublesome.

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