ELEPHANT FOOT YAM
COMMON NAME: Elephant foot yam
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Amorphophallus paeoniifolius
Oal, Gandira, Jangli suran, Kanda, Madana masta (Hindi)
Gandira, Suvarna-gadde (Kannada)
Cinapavu, Karunakarang, Kizhanna (Malayalam)
Anaittantu, Boomi sallaraikilangu, Camattilai (Tamil)
DESCRIPTION: The flowers of the elephant foot yam are arranged as an inflorescence (i.e. a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem). Note the small, pale flowers arranged on an inner structure known as the ‘spadix’, crowned by a large bulbous knob and encircled by a large, maroon, velvety sheathing bract or ‘spathe’. This inflorescence can be up to 40-50 cm tall and 30-40 cm across. The tuber can weigh up to 15 kg!
The tuber or ‘corm’ of the elephant foot yam is cooked and eaten across India. Meanwhile, its inflorescence displays a captivating strategy to attract its main pollinators: beetles, which like to feed on and lay their eggs in decaying and rotting matter. The inflorescence therefore mimics such rotting matter: first visually, with its purplish brownish colour and secondly, by emitting a strong, rotting meat smell. The flowers bloom only for about five days, and their odour is strongest at night. Interestingly, they also produce an intense heat of 30–45° C. The beetles soon realise the deception and move on, but the flower’s work is done. The beetles move onto the next flower, carrying pollen with them.
All images on this page have been obtained from Wikimedia Commons