What is Amorphophallus?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Amorphophallus is a genus of flowering herbs in the arum family, Araceae. It contains about 170 plants, native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Amorphophallus flowers resemble others in the arum family, in that they have a long spike or spadix in the center, surrounded by a spathe. Most species are pollinated by insects and have developed structures for trapping pollinators. The largest inflorescence in the world, called the corpse flower or titan arum, belongs to the Amorphophallus genus: A. titanum.

A. abyssinicus is a species native to southern Ethiopia.
A. abyssinicus is a species native to southern Ethiopia.

A. titanum is native to the rain forests of Sumatra, but can be found in many botanical gardens. The common name corpse flower refers to the flower's odor, which mimics rotting flesh to attract carrion eating pollinators. The flower of A. titanum can reach nearly 10 feet (3 meters) in height. It blooms rarely, however, and only remains open for a few days after blooming. Like many Amorphophallus flowers, the corpse flower must be pollinated within a day of opening.

A konjac may be the most cultivated amorphophallus species.
A konjac may be the most cultivated amorphophallus species.

Perhaps the most widely cultivated Amorphophallus species is A. konjac. Konjac, also called devil's tongue, snake palm, and voodoo lily, is native to tropical and subtropical Asia, and is grown throughout South and East Asia as a food source. The starchy root of konjac is used to make flour and jelly. The jelly is very similar to gelatin, and may be used as a vegan substitute for gelatin. It is high in fiber, but a low calorie food.

The titan arum belongs to the amorphophallus genus.
The titan arum belongs to the amorphophallus genus.

In Japanese cuisine, konjac jelly is often made with hijiki, a sea vegetable, which gives the jelly a mottled gray color and adds a bit of flavor; the gel is white and not very flavorful if prepared without additives. Konjac is also used to make noodles, called shirataki noodels, and fruit flavored gel snacks.

A. abyssinicus is a species native to southern Ethiopia. It is grown as a garden plant in its native area, and the roots of the plant are eaten. They require lengthy cooking to be edible, however. The root of A. paeoniifolius, commonly called elephant foot yam, stink lily, or whitespot giant arum, is also eaten in parts of South and Southeast Asia. A. preussii is a rare species growing only in Cameroon.

Some people find that konjac noodles work well as a low carbohydrate alternative to traditional pasta.
Some people find that konjac noodles work well as a low carbohydrate alternative to traditional pasta.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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