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  Cyrtosperma merkusii--the story
From: "Julius Boos" ju-bo at msn.com> on 2006.09.29 at 22:55:47(14713)
Reply-To : Discussion of aroids
Sent : Friday, September 29, 2006 2:16 PM
To : Discussion of aroids
Subject : [Aroid-l] Cyrtosperma Merkusii

Dear Eric,

Where in Florida are you located?? (Thanks for your other 'forward' on this,
I guess at the risk of others on this list screaming 'BORRRRRINGGGGG!!!",
I`ll come out and share a few notes about this wonderful aroid with you.
Information gleaned over years from reading many great books, papers, from
friends, etc. is hereby shared.
It is pictured in David Fairchilds book, Great Gardens of the East, where he
says at the time he considered the African aroid Lasimorpha senegalensis (at
about 8 ft. tall) to be the largest aroid in the world (this was in the days
before we knew much about the giant Amorphophallus sps!), and was told of
this other giant aroid that occured in a swamp somewhere (I believe he said)
in the Islands of Indonesia or on nearby Islands. He found it, and there
is a photo of him standing on a beach holding a cut leaf. From memory the
leaf is about 17 ft. tall!
If you browse the IAS/Mobot site, you can see 'yours-truly' proudly standing
by my effort at growing this plant, a mere 12 ft. or so tall.
It is cultivated by people on certain coral islands in the Pacific region,
small Islands where the soil is too bad or non-existant and the water too
saline for the cultivation of 'regular' taro, Colocasia esculenta, which is
THE staple carbo. food of Islanders throughout most of the Pacific region,
nor other starches/foods such as breadfruit. From what I have gleaned, it
supplys the only starch where there is but fish and coconuts to survive on.
To grow it, a pit is dug in the coral rock, and a basket containing a
sucker of this plant together with chopped coconut fiber, leaves, etc. is
lowered into the pit, where water percolates into it. Though the water has
some salinity, this plant can tollerate it. My guess is that they must
fertilize it w/ fish offal, human waste, etc., and must also 'cultivate' it
by removing the many off-shoots/suckers it produces around its base. It
then grows over a period of up to 7 years to a huge size, at which point it
is harvested, the resulting corm/tuber (='chuba'!! :--)) can weigh up to 70
lbs., and is considered almost a form of currency and denotes the wealth of
the owners/chiefs. It is said that a woman`s 'worth' as a wife on these
Islands is determined by her ability to prepare food/dishes from this corm.
I read that it was terribly starchy and tasteless, a 'not-true' charge I
have also heard leveled at Colocasia esculenta= taro/poi way too many times.
A friend who lived in Indonesia (an American!) told me that he grew it
around a natural lake on his land. He reported that it was one of the best
tasting starch-type crops he had ever tasted! I`m certain that some of the
friends on this list who have tasted my shepherd`s pie made w/ mashed
Colocasia esculenta topping, or my eddoes (C. e. antiquorum) in 'devil
sauce' would take bets on which may taste better!
It occurs in several cultivars throughout its natural range, the all-green
one that you saw at Fairchild Garden is a good match for the one pictured w/
David Fairchild, and there is another cultivar also locally available which
we are beholden to our own Alan Galloway for, as he collected it during one
of his trips to Asia, but as yet can not recall exactly where. Many years
ago he very kindly gave his last survivor of it to me as a very small plant,
sickly from the cold weather up at his place, and I managed to get it going
down here, and my dear friend Craig Morell is responsible for mantaining a
few over these MANY years when my fortunes in plant growing waxed and waned.
This cultivar is a beautiful plant with pink-brown colored petioles, and
a slightly different shaped leaf blade, and does not seem to grow to be as
large as the one you saw at Fairchild Gardens. Dr. Alistair Hay wrote that
he believed that C. merkusii was a just a selection or cultivated 'form'
originating from the wild Cyrtosparma ferox, I hope to test this theory by
eventually sending dried leaf samples of both to Dr. Goncalves in Brazil for
DNA testing.
Both clones, and many other wonderful related aquatic aroids, are available
from my friends Enid and Sam (the parents with the BEAUTIFUL new baby boy
'Jesse' at the show!!) at Natural Selections, all for a nominal price.
Growing aquatic aroids is easy, my article 'Experiencing Urospathas' in an
older issue of "Aroideana" outlines a method I developed by trial and error
for growing all of these sometimes difficult aquatic/swamp aroids.
I hope that this info. is of help, that I have not bored any of our readers,
and that I have not taken up too much of anyone`s time.

Good Growing,


From: "Agoston Janos" agoston.janos at citromail.hu> on 2006.09.30 at 12:33:07(14715)
I like this plant. It is huge and Araceae! I think it is not
suitable in a block of flats...b :)

----- Original Message -----

From: "FLFireman1 at yahoo.com" flfireman1 at yahoo.com> on 2006.09.30 at 23:40:52(14719)
Hello Brian, Julius, and everybody else who shared
there info and insight on this beautiful plant.

The Markusii that Brian sent a link of from Hawaii
doesnt look "exactly" like the one that is growing at
Fairchild. It may very well be the same plant, since I
am no expert. But it appears that the leaf on the one
that Brian sent a link to has a softer leaf almost
like a Xanthosoma Sagitifollia when compared to an
Alocasia Odora leaf.

From: "Famille FERRY" jpcferry2 at wanadoo.fr> on 2006.10.01 at 17:10:18(14723)
Hello ,

I am surprised to re-examine this photograph. I had forgotten. David
Scherberich and me even, planes accomodated very well by Josef Bogner. The
collection of Arac?es of Munich is incredible : the paradise!

Best regards,


From: "Julius Boos" ju-bo at msn.com> on 2006.10.01 at 18:18:49(14724)
Reply-To : Discussion of aroids
Sent : Saturday, September 30, 2006 11:40 PM
To : Discussion of aroids
Subject : Re: [Aroid-l] Cyrtosperma merkusii--the story

Dear ALl,

As some of you have 'heard' me say here on aroid-l, aroids are VERY
'plastic' plants, and can and do evolve VERY quickly vegetatively, as we
have seen that even an offshoot from a 'mother' plant can grow to look and
TASTE differently to the 'mother'. The best way to illustrate this is to
consider Colocasia esculenta (taro) in Hawaii, in just a couple thousand
years man has managed to develope several HUNDRED 'cultivars'/clones just by
his selection, NOT by breeding or seed/sexual reproduction, and these
hundreds come from just a very few original clones/varieties that were
brought to the Islands by the first human arrivals.
Presumably the same thing occurs with Cyrtosperma. As I said in my note,
there are many known cultivars of this one 'species', C. merkusii, so we can
expect to see slight differences in them through their range, and this is
NOT taking into account the growing conditions, as the plants at Fairchild
and in Munich probably originate from exactly the same collection/clone, and
both are growing indoors in shade and stillness, while the Hawaiian plant is
growing outside in sun and the wind.

Good Growing,


From: "Alistair Hay" ajmhay at hotmail.com> on 2006.10.02 at 05:27:41(14727)
Cyrtosperma chamissonis is a name that has been used for the cultivated (and usually unarmed) forms in the Pacific.
When I was looking into this 20 years ago, I formed the opinion that the cultivated forms intergraded with the very spiny Javan wild-type C. merkusii, and hence I used the name C. merkusii to cover both the wild and the cultivated forms.
I also formed the opinion that Bornean C. ferox and Malayan C. lasioides belonged to this variable species.
I know Josf Bogner disagrees with me about C. ferox :-)

From: "mossytrail" mossytrail at hctc.com> on 2006.10.03 at 02:45:56(14728)
> Dear Friends,
> Thanks, Brian, nice photo!!
> While we are on this subject, perhaps someone out there
> may be able to provide us w/ some information on a couple
> of subjects. A good friend has told me that several years
> ago, while visiting Hawaii, he recalls visiting (he
> thinks) 'Lyonn Arborium' (name/spelling?)

Lyon Arboretum. It is up the Manoa Valley, near the
trailhead to Manoa Falls, on Oahu. Unfortunately (for me),
it is only open when I am at work -- that is to say,
weekdays only, closed weekends and holidays. That section
of the island, however, is of particular interest -- the
Manoa Valley/ Mt. Tantalus area has a much greater diversity
of introduced aroids growing wild than I have seen anywhere
else in the Islands.

Off topic, does anyone know
> if there are folks here in the USA who have plants of
> native Hawaiian Hibiscus genera/species in cultivation??
> Good Growing,
The Audubon Center in Waimea, Oahu has extensive botanic
gardens, with many specimens of the extinct-in-the-wild
Hibiscus brackenridgei. But I doubt they are available for

From: "Steve Lucas Exotic Rainforest" steve at exoticrainforest.com> on 2006.10.03 at 17:04:02(14730)
I met a couple who went to Lyon Arobertum early in the
summer. They tipped a gardner $20 and mailed home an enormous box of
cuttings of all sorts of rare plants from around the South Pacific. She
got 3 or 4 nice Cercestis mirabilis which are pricey plants. And it all
cost only $20 plus the postage. Could be worth a trip to

Steve Lucas

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