Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (Dennst.) Nicholson
Family: Araceae
not available

Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (Dennst.) Nicholson

Taxon 26: 337. 1977. 

Synonyms: Dracontium paeoniifolium Dennst., Schlüssel Hortus Malab. 38. 1818; Amorphophallus campanulatus Decne.

An intentional Polynesian introduction to Samoa, native to somewhere in the Old World tropics between Madagascar and Indo-Malaya, perhaps closer to the latter (since it doesn’t set seed in the western part of its range).  It was an ancient introduction into the Pacific as far east as the Marquesas.  Although once cultivated or perhaps just left to grow wild, it is now uncommon in Samoa in open native and secondary forest and plantations (although it is often difficult to find, especially since it is leafless during part of the year) on all the main islands, reported from near sea level to 350 m elevation.  The tuber was originally a supplemental food, but is no longer utilized.  Like other members of the aroid family, the corm and other parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals called raphides that are caustic to humans.  Ingestion of the plant releases the crystals, which cause one’s throat and mouth to become inflamed and swollen.  Few people know the plant nowadays, or how it was prepared as a famine food.  It was apparently mashed and rinsed several times before being thoroughly cooked.  Adulterers or criminals were sometimes sentenced to bite the stem, which caused the gums to become so extraordinarily enflamed that death often resulted (Krämer 1903), although this may be somewhat overstated.  Turner (1861) noted that the punishment involved taking five bites of the corm, which was “like filling the mouth five times with cayenne pepper, and that it was considered cowardly to shrink from the punishment on which the village court might decide, and so the young man would go boldly forward, sit down before the chief, bite the root five times, get up, and walk away with his mouth on fire.”  According to Powell (1868), “The chiefs in Samoa sometimes sentenced a culprit to bite the stem of this plant, but the culprits sometimes succeeded in deceiving them by putting inside its hollow stem a young banana leaf in its rolled or twisted state, and biting that instead of the teve, and then making such grimaces as would indicate that they were severely stung.”  This is impossible, however, since unlike the similar-looking Polynesian arrowroot (Tacca leontopetaloides), its stems are solid.  The huge inflorescence, something like a spreading, dark-colored calla lily and appearing once a year after the leaves begin to die off, is the color of rotting meat and emits an unpleasant odor that attracts the flies needed for pollination.  Minor medicinal uses have also been noted.  Samoan Name: teve.  English Name: stink lily.

Large herb, stemless, arising from an acrid tuber up to 30 cm in diameter.  Leaves compound, solitary and arising from the corm after flowering; blade palmately divided into three lobes that are further divided, 30–40 cm or more long, oblique at the lobe base, acute at the lobe tips; surfaces glabrous; margins of lobes entire; petiole often warty, mottled in color, solid (rather than hollow), up to 65 cm or more in length.  Inflorescence of unisexual flowers on a spadix surrounded by a spathe, borne on a stalk up to 10 cm long; spadix cylindrical, ca. 15–20 cm long, comprised of three parts—an upper expanded, purple “appendix,” a medial part bearing the closely packed male flowers, and a basal part bearing the densely packed female flowers; spathe ca. 20 cm long, green on the outside, purple within, spreading and campanulate at anthesis and drooping with age.  Female flowers sessile, lacking a perianth; ovary 1–4-celled with a single ovule and a purple style 3–4 times as long as the ovary, with a deeply lobed, yellow stigma; ovary absent in male flowers.  Male flowers sessile, lacking a perianth, with several united stamens having purple filaments and yellow anthers; stamens absent in female flowers.  Fruit a red, ovoid, 1-seeded berry ca. 8–12 mm long.  Flowering and fruiting occur in October and November in the southern hemisphere, after the leaves begin to die back.

Distinguishable by its stemless herb habit; solid leaf stalks; large, palmately lobed leaves; mottled; and large, seasonal, foul-smelling, purple spathe and spadix.  The single large leaf, which is palmately 3-lobed from the base and further divided, is very similar to that of the Polynesian arrowroot (Tacca leontopetaloides), but its stalk differs warty and mottled rather than green and longitudinally grooved.