Amorphophallus konjac: Can You Resist the Lure of the Devil’s Tongue?

Detail of the male and female flowers (Photo A. Culham)

You are probably familiar with Amorphophallus titanum, the titan arum, which has the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, but do you know about its smaller, red tongued sibling Amorphophallus konjac?

A bunch of A. konjac in bloom

A bunch of A. konjac in bloom
(Photo courtesy of
James Steakley, 2012)

Family Description

A. konjac is a member of the Araceae family (Arum and Duckweed family) within the order Alismatales. Araceae consists of perennial and mostly terrestrial herbs, with some that are aquatic. Distinct features that help indentify members of this monocotyledonous family include bifacial leaves with parallel or netted venation.  The inflorescence is a usually fleshy spadix consisting of many small flowers with a subtending, sometimes colorful, sheathing bract referred to as a spathe.  Raphides and laticifers are both common.  They also tend to have endospermous seeds.[i] Continue reading

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Wanderlust Tropics: a naturalist journey into Bromeliaceae

Neotropical most iconic plant family!


Aechmea fasciata showing off bright pink bracts

Bromeliads are part of our life in several different ways, especially for those who live on the American continent, where these plants firstly evolved around a hundred millions years ago (Givnish et al. 2011). Doubtless Bromeliaceae can be placed among the most iconic plant families in the Neotropics. Since the early explorers started to gather scientific data in the New World, more than 300 years ago, its astonishing diversity of life forms, habitats, odd morphological features, resilience, adaptability, ecological importance and abundance amazed those who crossed with these amazing plants in field. Historical data suggests that at least a dozen of great explorers and early botanists who come to Tropical Americas between 1800`s and 1900`s were fascinated by bromeliads. A few of them definitely are worth mention, mostly for their crucial contributions toward a broaden knowledge from one of the most unexploited region throughout the globe. Continue reading

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What’s that when it’s at home?

Every day we eat our fresh fruit and vegetables to stay healthy but how often do you think about where they have come from or what plant they grow on? Continue reading

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84th Reading Beavers – Saving the environment!

84th Reading Beavers checking out pond plants

84th Reading Beavers checking out pond plants

On Friday evening we had the pleasure of hosting a keen and vibrant group of Beavers from the local 84th group along with their leaders and parent helpers.  While the emphasis was very much on look and experience the exciting plants there was time to explain some of the curious occupants of the greenhouse including the black bat flower and a little plant related to coffee that provides a home to biting ants that protect it from predators.  We also talked about bananas (currently in fruit again), pineapple (still in fruit), ginger and it’s relative Grains of Paradise (used to flavour gin). Continue reading

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The Nigerian Field Society

How is Papyrus scroll made from the Papyrus plant, and where does the species come from?

How is Papyrus scroll made from the Papyrus plant, and where does the species come from?

On Saturday 4th July we welcomed the Nigerian Field Society UK branch to the Tropical Glasshouse.  This was an especially interesting visit for me because many of the visitors had far more experience of tropical biodiversity, and particularly tropical botany and agriculture than I have.  The result was a tour that operated as a question and answer session for me and the visitors.

Among the visitors were academics who had worked at the University of Ibadan, one of Nigeria’s most prestigious Universities, situated in the third largest metropolitan area in Nigeria.

Among the group visiting I was pleased to see Ayo, our Aframomum blogger and MSc student, who has returned for Summer graduation on Thursday.  She was keen to see how the plants had grown, to see the first flowering of our Plumeria shrub and the Tacca seedlings as well as to collect a few of the spare scotch bonnet chilli peppers. Continue reading

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A Multidimensional Greek Wedding

Church or TARDIS? it appeared too small to hold the congregation

Church or TARDIS? it appeared too small to hold the congregation

In March 2012 Kalman and Maria were helping prepare the tropical glasshouse for complete re-planting.  There was heavy digging to do while we mixed 4-5 tonnes of home produced compost for filling the glasshouse beds and some photography which involved lifting a camera.  Kalman and Maria got deeply involved with the work, splitting it equitably; Maria doing the heavy digging and Kalman taking the photographs.  Since then Kalman has completed his PhD and now works for the Royal Horticultural Society and Maria is in the final year of her PhD.  The two of them have not restricted themselves to botany though, they have, today, been married.  As far as I’m aware it’s our first Tropical Biodiversity related wedding. Continue reading

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Ranikhet Primary School – a rainforest experience

What's in the water? Plants that keep it clean and clear.

What’s in the water? Plants that keep it clean and clear.

Today pupils from Ranikhet Primary School visited the Tropical Biodiversity Greenhouse (Part of Reading University Herbarium in the School of Biological Sciences) to see, smell, touch and draw plants that grow in the tropics, and particularly the tropical rainforest.

Two classes visited to hear about the features of rainforest plants: leaves that shed excess water and often have drip-tips; adaptations to too much light, too little light, poor soil, strong winds, plants growing on other plants, things to eat and things to avoid.

We looked at members of the pineapple family, known to botanists as bromeliads, including a pineapple in fruit, a range of bromeliads growing on an artificial tree branch and even Spanish Moss, a plant that hangs from twigs and even from power lines in the Americas. Continue reading

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1st Whiteknights Brownies

Banana leaves tear in the wind

Banana leaves tear in the wind

We hosted a visit from the 1st Whiteknights Brownies this evening in a very warm and humid tropical atmosphere.  Over an hour we toured the world of plants asking questions such as ‘What eats chilli peppers and why?’, ‘how do banana plants stay upright?’ and ‘why doesn’t water hyacinth sink?’.    As well as seeing the water plants and food plants the brownies met an ‘ant plant’ – a species related to coffee that grows a big swelling at its base for ants to live in.  Continue reading

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Comfortable life with Cymbopogon citratus (lemongrass)!!

This gallery contains 3 photos.

You have heard of name “lemongrass”, haven’t you? So, what is the lemongrass? Is Lemongrass same as a Lemon? The answer is definitely No! It is a completely different species from the lemon. Well, why do we call it the … Continue reading

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Nepenthes mira – The Wonderful Pitcher plant

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Nepenthes mira Tropical glasshouse Reading University

The Nepenthaceae, and in particular the only genus in this family, the genus Nepenthes, has been described in a previous blog, posted on this site by Garance (Wood-Moulin 2013). In that blog the morphology and development of pitcher plants has been illustrated together with an account on the overall taxonomy of the genus Nepenthes.

For additional information and illustrations on the Nepenthaceae, the reader should refer to “Flowering Plant Families of The World (Heywood et al. 2007). Continue reading

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