Corpse flower in Sembawang which drew visitors cut down mysteriously

The corpse flower at Block 338 Sembawang Crescent had bloomed on Sunday, but was later removed. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
Many Singaporeans flocked to Block 338 Sembawang Crescent to take photographs of the unusual sight. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - A large, putrid flower of an exotic plant known as the elephant foot yam, initially found blooming at the foot of a Housing Board block in Sembawang, has been cut down.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, an MP for Sembawang GRC, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (June 8) that he was sad to learn that the corpse flower - so-called for the stench it emits - had been removed.

"I hope all of us can be more gracious, more respectful and more caring towards nature," Dr Lim said. "We have so much natural beauty here, especially in Sembawang, that we can admire and enjoy together."

Dr Lim first posted a photograph of the flower on Sunday.

Following his post, many Singaporeans flocked to Block 338 Sembawang Crescent to take photographs of the unusual sight.

Retiree Desmond Yap, 68, was one of them. "It was a rare sight," he told The Straits Times. But he said he could not detect any odour from the flower through his mask.

"Now that the flower has been taken away, a lot of nature lovers are unable to have a view of that beautiful flower," he said.

It looked like it had been removed with a sharp blade, since the cut was clean, Mr Yap added.

Mr Vikram Nair, chairman of the Sembawang Town Council, described the incident as unfortunate, adding that it was not clear who was responsible.

He said: "The incident was very sad, and we are not sure who was responsible for this. As the flower is on common property, we can take action under our TC by-laws, but finding the culprit will be difficult unless witnesses come forward."

"Given the popularity and interest in this flower, our TC may look into the feasibility of growing similar tubers in some areas," he added.

The size of the flower spanned almost half a metre. The plant can reach heights of 2.5m, according to the website of the National Parks Board (NParks).

The site where the elephant foot yam had been. ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

Corpse flowers like that of the elephant foot yam tend to lure insects that lay their eggs on animal carcasses or rotting vegetation.

Insects, mostly various groups of flies and beetles, are attracted to such flowers because of the stench, which is similar to that of a decomposing animal. The insects help to pollinate the plant.

Such corpse flowers have two conspicuous parts.

The central spike is called a spadix, which bears the male and female flowers of the plant; while the "cone" it protrudes from is a modified leaf, said botanist Shawn Lum from the Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment.

Doctor Soh Wah Ngee and his wife Lim Bee Har take a selfie with the corpse flower on June 7, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The elephant foot yam (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius), which can be found naturally in several countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Madagascar, is non-native to Singapore.

Its Latin name "paeoniifolius" means "leaves that look like that of the peony", said Dr Lum.

While the flowers may smell like carrion, this plant has parts more appealing to humans. The tuber underground can weigh up to 25kg and is edible, he added.

"People may cultivate this plant at home for the tubers," he told The Straits Times, adding that he had tried growing one at home for years, but did not see it flower. "I suspect that for the flower in Sembawang, it may have been from a tuber that someone bought and planted there."

People photographing the elephant foot yam on June 7, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Amorphophallus konjac, a close relative of the elephant foot yam, is used to make konjac jelly, he added.

There are a number of other native plants in Singapore that emit a smell of decay.

They include the voodoo lily (Amorphophallus prainii) and an orchid named after the Greek monster Medusa (Bulbophyllum medusae), ST reported last October.

The voodoo lily, for example, emits a putrid odour from late afternoon, to attract potential pollinators such as carrion flies and beetles.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.