Dragons in your garden . . .

Dragon arum
Dragon arum

Dragon arum – you can buy the tubers and birds and mice scatter the seeds!

There are, however, other plants which do not fit into any of these categories. There is some other feature that we may find ‘interesting’ – or, in this case, quite Gothically dramatic. Such is seen on the photo sent to me by an ex-Manea resident, as appeared in her new garden.

The Dragon Arum is one such, botanically Arum dracunculus or Dracunculus vulgaris. Other common names include the Black arum, the voodoo lily, snake lily, stink lily, black dragon, dragon’s tongue and dragonwort. ‘Dracunculus’ means ‘small dragon’ as the flower part – the spadix and spathe – appear to be the tongue of a dragon breathing fire!

Native to the eastern Mediterranean – Greece, Crete, Turkey, etc – it is now fairly widely distributed throughout western Europe and North America. It seems to be one of those plants that just ‘appears’ in gardens – often to the owners’ distress when it flowers… for the pollinator it wishes to attract are flies. The fragrance is best described as ‘rotting meat’!

A plant such as this is bound to have given rise to various myths and superstitions. For example, taking the roots or leaves on board ship will repel sea serpents. Washing your hands with a solution made from the roots will protect from the most dangerous of snakes…

Like all arums, it is potentially hazardous (although I do not know of any reported incidents). I think the berries would be too distasteful to encourage ingestion, although it may be worth taking care when handling the root or stem as they are known to be skin irritants.

The plant itself is a deciduous tuberous perennial which grows happily in most garden soils in sun or light shade. It would make an interesting addition to an open glade in a sheltered woodland – not where you wish to sit whilst it is in bloom!

Dying down completely in the winter, the new growth emerges in late spring and grows quickly up to one metre plus – the snakeskin-like stems bearing large, glossy green, finger-like leaves. The spadix and spathe protect the tiny flowers. The spathe erupts and unfurls, cradling the deep purplish-black spadix. The spathe is a rich maroon colour – often 30cm or more in diameter.

As well as spreading by tubers it also spreads by seed held in the berries eaten by birds and mice – hence why it often just ‘appears’ in gardens, uninvited! Indeed, I was able to obtain mine from a garden in Manea where the owner was only too pleased to see the back of it. I think it is a great plant!

n Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre). RHS courses taught at all levels. Applications now being taken for September.

Now open for plant sales on Saturdays.