A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Kris Plant - Alocasia sanderiana
Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Genera of Araceae

The Araceae are a family of herbaceous monocots with 104 genera and about 3700 species if the Lemnaceae is not regarded as a generic synonym, or 108 genera and about 3750 species if the Lemnaceae are included.

The vast majority of the genera occur in the New World tropics. Members of the family are highly diverse in life forms, leaf morphology, and inflorescence characteristics. Life forms range from submerged or free-floating aquatics to terrestrial (sometimes tuberous), and to epiphytic or hemiepiphytic plants or climbers. Leaves range from simple and entire to compound and highly divided, and may be basal or produced from an aerial stem. The family is best characterized by its distinctive inflorescence, a spadix with bisexual or unisexual (sometimes with sterile region) and subtended by a solitary spathe on a long or very short peduncle.

It is only recently, that I found out that the kris plant, that my grandmother told me about when I was a little boy, was an aroid and that its botanical name is Alocasia sanderiana. It is called a kris plant because the leaves of this plant which have metallic gray veining resemble a kris a Filipino knife from the island of Mindanao. This southern island of the Filipino archipelago, has a majority Muslim population that the Spaniards, who occupied the Philippines until the Spanish American war, called moros or "moors". These Malay people came from Indonesia and imported mny customs including the asymmetrical kris. Aloacasia sanderiana is a Filipino native plant.

If a family of plants might have come from another planet the aroids are prime candidates for strangeness. The stinky Amorphophallus from Indonesia may have the largest flower (properly called an inflorescence) on earth. Some arisaemas (Jacks in the pulpit)choose not to emerge in the spring in my garden in some years and when I think they are long gone there they are. They change sex at will like many aroids. There are some aroids that are able to raise the temperature of their flowers (and we though that only some animals could be warm blooded!). Calla lilies (Zantedeschia), the indoor monstera or Swiss Cheese plant are also aroids.

The direct scans of a leaf of my Alocasia sanderiana (note the purple underside) from a plant that I have had in my house for 20 years. At first I thought that when all the leaves of the plant collapsed that the plant had died. I would water it. That would finish off the plant and it would die. I soon learned not to water it and leave it alone until early spring. My pristine plant is not so pristine. Even though the leaves have a caustic sap my female cat, Plata, delights in chewing at them.


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