'Smelly' corpse flower in Sembawang cut down

Doctor Soh Wah Ngee and his wife Lim Bee Har, a housewife, taking a selfie with the corpse flower of an exotic plant known as the elephant foot yam in Sembawang on Monday. Botanist Shawn Lum suspects that the flower may have been from a tuber that so
Doctor Soh Wah Ngee and his wife Lim Bee Har, a housewife, taking a selfie with the corpse flower of an exotic plant known as the elephant foot yam in Sembawang on Monday. Botanist Shawn Lum suspects that the flower may have been from a tuber that someone bought and planted there.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
The corpse flower of the elephant foot yam (above) spanned almost half a metre, and crowds had flocked to Sembawang to take photographs of the rare sight (right).
The corpse flower of the elephant foot yam spanned almost half a metre, and crowds had flocked to Sembawang to take photographs of the rare sight (above).ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
The corpse flower of the elephant foot yam (above) spanned almost half a metre, and crowds had flocked to Sembawang to take photographs of the rare sight (right).
The corpse flower of the elephant foot yam (above) spanned almost half a metre, and crowds had flocked to Sembawang to take photographs of the rare sight.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

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 yesterday 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," said Dr Lim. "We have so much natural beauty here, especially in Sembawang, that we can admire and enjoy together."

He 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 smell 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 the beautiful flower," he said.

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

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

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

He added: "Given the popularity and interest in this flower, our town council may look into the feasibility of growing similar tubers in some areas."

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

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.

The elephant foot yam (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius), which can be found naturally in several countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and China, is not 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 said.

"People may cultivate this plant at home for the tubers," he told ST.

"I suspect that for the flower in Sembawang, it may have been from a tuber that someone bought and planted there."

There are a number of 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), reported ST last October.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2021, with the headline ''Smelly' corpse flower in Sembawang cut down'. Subscribe