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What is Amorphophallus?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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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. 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.

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.

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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.

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