I missed last week, so this week’s is a biggun, to make up for my tardiness.
Bow down before The Shapeless Cock-of-the-Gods:Apparently, when this plant was filmed for The Private Life of Plants in 1995, David Attenborough decided to invent the term “titan arum” to avoid using the plant’s Latin (well, Greek, really) name on prime-time BBC-1:
- ἄμορφος (amorphos) = without form, shapeless
- φαλλός (phallos) = phallus, penis, cock
- Τιτάν (Titan) = primaeval Greek god
Coming from Croydon, euphemism has never been my strong point. The titan arum will always be the shapeless cock-of-the-gods to me.
Interestingly, the closest British relative of the cock-of-the-gods is lords-and-ladies, otherwise known as the cuckoo-pint. The “pint” here does not refer to the unit of volume, but is a contraction of the Old English word pintle, which also means phallus, penis or cock. There’s evidently something about the flowers of arum lilies that brings out the grubby little school-boy in taxonomists.The cock-of-the-gods is rather rare – possibly even endangered – in its native Sumatra, but Kew Gardens have a number of potted cocks in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Its leaves are no less impressive than its inflorescence. The photo below might look like a small tree, but is in fact one massive, much-subdivided leaf. The cock-of-the-gods often gets touted as the largest flower in the world. This is technically untrue: the largest flower in the word is that of the parasitic Rafflesia: What looks like the flower of the cock-of-the-gods is really a mass of tiny flowers on a central spike (the spadix) entirely surrounded by a large colourful leaf (the spathe). The same arrangement is found in most other arum lilies, including Swiss cheese plants, skunk cabbage, and peace lilies: Kew’s potted cocks are often in flower around May. The inflorescence doesn’t last for long, and they don’t get produced every year, so if @KewGardens tweet that it’s about to flower, you’ve got about a week to see it before it collapses into a rancid sack of squelch. Strangely enough, the smallest flower in the world belongs to a relative of the cock-of-the-gods, a kind of duckweed called Wolffia: The ubiquity of duckweed and the rarity of the cock-of-the-gods is clear evidence that that it’s not size that matters, but what you do with it.