dravul12

The little reeking dragon: Dracunculus vulgaris

Today I had the chance to photograph an amazing plant: the dragon flower (Dracunculus vulgaris). It’s probably a non-native species to Italy, with a very scattered and oddly distributed population. It’s peculiarity is in the inflorescence: a big, rotten meat red colored giant spadix towering at even 1 m above the ground with a total size of about 30 cm (or even a bit more). And the smell… Oh… that smell…

I’m quite used to bad-smelling plants (mostly Asclepiadaceae), but honestly, when I “met” this one, a wall of sensations drilled my nose, headed by the strongest among them: death stench. It was like sniffing a pool of days old dead fishes, feces and cows (I apologize with all the people around the world that’s taking lunch or dinner right now)…

But you know, nature is all about surviving in a hostile world and plants are no less so. Some of them, that one could call “Les fleurs du mal”, evolved in a different direction from their good-smelling relatives to exploit different niches for pollination.

And what about all those buzzing and messing flies, beetles and stuff around? Let’s give them a try! There’s plenty of work here for them, but also a terrible cheat. This plants, contrarily to the “normally smelling” ones, don’t waste energy by producing something like nectar to give in exchange to the Insects. They just exploit them until the pollinators get bored with the fake carrion/dung or, even worse, after they deposit their eggs over its surface as many flies do. Of course, the larvae will never get any nourishing and will die soon after getting to life.

Why I told you this? Because it’s an amazing natural history? Yes, of course!… but… There’s also a great moral about this species: never think that a nice, big, red flower will always fit well into a posy you’re about to compose…

 Thanks a lot to Francesco Cassulo that made these photos possible by letting me know the plant was in flower! Without you, I wouldn’t ever had such “intense” experience!