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Amorphophallus—Growing Amorphophallus Indoors

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Amorphophallus—Growing Amorphophallus Indoors

The Amorphophallus konjac is worth the stink; it's a beautiful and exotic plant.

Photo © tditz_gb/Flickr
No doubt you've heard of these plants, although probably not by their Latin name. Indeed, an example of Amorphophallus growing in the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami is probably one of the single most famous plants in the world. Known as "Mr. Stinky," when it blooms the plant attracts hoards of paying customers to get a whiff of the worst smelling plant in the world. The Amorphophallus genus contains about 170 species, most of which are united by the distinction of being the most awful smelling plants you can imagine. Pollinated by flies and insects, they attract their pollinators by smelling like death, rotting meat, corpses and sewage. A blooming Amorphophallus can literally bring tears to your eyes. So why grow one of these? Because they are the coolest of novelty plants, they don't bloom very long, and their foliage is amazing.

Growing Conditions:

Light: Only about three species of Amorphophallus are commonly seen in the trade and all are understory plants that thrive in dappled sunlight.
Water: They prefer rich, watered soil, but will survive without copious water.
Soil: Any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do.
Fertilizer: Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.

Propagation:

Amorphophallus grow from underground tubers that sent up one or more offshoots every year. Every offshoot is technically a single leaf that arises on a stem to variable heights. The flower, when it emerges, will also emerge from the underground tuber. Propagating is most easily accomplished by taking an offset shoot and potting it up individually. Take the offshoot in the spring. Your success rate should be fairly high.

Repotting:

Amorphophallus are well-suited to container culture, provided you remove and pot up offshoots as they emerge and keep the cycle going. When the plant sends up a new leaf, this tall and often striking leaf will survive for approximately one growing season before it will decline and collapse. The flower will emerge during the growing season. To repot, simply put offshoots into their own pots. The main tuber should only require repotting every few years, when the soil has degraded and needs to be replaced.

Varieties:

There are about 170 varieties of Amorphophallus known today, but you're likely to only see three. Interestingly, these three have become popular enough that they are sometimes seen in tropical plant shops and can be easily purchased online. They include A. bulbifer, A. konjac, and A. paeoniifolius. Of these three, the A. konjac and A. paeoniifolius feature mottled and beautiful stems topped with an umbrella-like, deeply lobed leaf. They grow to about 4 feet tall in ideal conditions. The famous Mr. Stinky is an A. titanum, but these are less well suited to indoor cultivation.

Grower's Tips:

Amorphophallus are not particularly difficult plants to grow—it can be harder to find one than to grow it well. If you do locate one, it's best to stick to the more common varieties as they are easier to grow. To keep the plants looking their best, when the fleshy stalk on a year's growth begins to fail, cut it back to make room for the next year's stalk. The flowers are unusual and will rise directly from the ground, almost sitting on the ground. In terms of special cultural requirements, the key is to keep them out of direct sunlight. Also be aware that most species of Amorphophallus have a dormancy period after the leaf collapses, when the tuber will rest before sending up a new leaf. Amorphophallus are vulnerable to pests including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and white fly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the least toxic option.

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