Now this is a plant that really grabs your attention when visiting the uMkhuze Game Reserve in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, especially if you have a chance to walk the grounds of the Mantuma Rest Camp where we stayed for 4 nights in March this year.
The Giant Carrion Flower is notable not only for the smell of its flowers, which really does smell like rotting meat (especially on a hot afternoon!), but also because it boasts the biggest flowers – up to 40cm across! – of any South African plant. These flowers can be borne at any time of year, though mainly in late summer and early autumn. Their succulent, green stems are small by comparison, growing around 25cm tall only. Probably not surprising, the flowers are pollinated by flies, and so convincing is the smell that flies often lie their eggs on the flower! The seedpod that develops from pollinated flowers carries lots of plumed seeds that are dispersed by the wind, but they can also be propagated vegetatively as the stems will easily re-root. Giant Carrion Flowers grow best in dry, hot areas and rocky outcrops.
Giant Carrion Flowers occur naturally in all the countries of Southern Africa (Angola, Zambia and Malawi southwards) and in all South Africa’s provinces. It is considered to be of least concern, but some wild populations are declining due to extensive collection for ornamental and medicinal use. In traditional medicine these plants are used to treat pain, constipation and bruising, and also as a magic charm against evil and lightning. They are popular and easy to keep in the garden or in pots, especially as it requires very little water.