Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (also known as the elephant foot yam) is a distant (and much smaller) relative of Cornell’s renowned titan arums (Amorphophallus titanium). A native of tropical Asia, this perennial herb is cultivated for its edible tuber. In Indonesia, it is the third most important source of carbohydrates after rice and maize.
While titan arums can produce inflorescences up to 12 feet tall and 200-pound tubers, elephant foot yams are more likely to top out at a little more than 2 feet with tubers up to 30 pounds. But like its larger cousin, it smells of rotting flesh when it flowers to attract flies and carrion beetles as pollinators. As the name suggests, its leaves resemble those of peonies.
According to Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in England, the plant has many medicinal properties and is used in traditional Hindu preparations. Tubers are used to treat parasitic worms, inflammation, coughs, flatulence, constipation, anaemia, haemorrhoids and fatigue.
As of May 18, the plant was flowering in the Student House of the Conservatory near the Plant Science Building entrance. Stop by and take a whiff when the Conservatory is open to the public, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. most weekdays.