Science Art: Helicodiceros crinitus Schott by J. Strohmayer / Anstalt v. Reiffenstein & Rösch in Wein.

dead horse arum lily

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An image of an arum, from the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Aroideae, 1 album, consisting of plates from Heinrich Wilhelm Schott’s Aroideae. The artist credit here, Reiffenstein & Rösch, is actually the name of an Austrian lithograph firm. Interesting to think of a society with a corporation for creating art like this. J. Strohmayer seems to have been the actual artist.

The flower is nowadays called a Helicodiceros muscivoros, and is better known as the dead horse arum lily. Um, because of the smell. It’s pollinated by flies seeking rotting meat. As if that’s not disturbing enough, it has a mechanism inside the bloom that traps the hungry flies inside overnight:

When ready to pollinate, the plant produces its own heat and generates a smell like rotting flesh. This smell attracts the blow flies into the chamber of the plant for pollination. Once the flies are inside, they are trapped in the chamber by spines that block the exit path. The flies, which are carrying pollen from previous visits to other flowers, cover the female floret with that pollen, as they try to find a place to lay their eggs. The flies remain trapped overnight, and the spines remain erect until the male florets at the entrance of the chamber start producing pollen, by which time the female florets are no longer receptive. At this point, the spines wilt and the flies are able to leave. Just as the flies leave, they have to pass through the male florets and are coated with pollen that they will transport to another plant.