We were hiking and exploring around the Doves’ Caves east of Nalerigu when we noticed some really interesting plants among the boulders. It was the size and odd shape that first caught our attention but as we approached it the putrid smell was overpowering. It smelled like a dead animal and flies were buzzing in and around it, attracted by the stench.
I found I could get a really cool visual effect by placing a wide-angle camera lens inside the folded spathe and photographing the backlit spadix.
I had never seen anything like this plant before and I took one home to ask some locals what it was called in Mampruli. Everyone immediately recognized and identified it as Kunduŋyoori or “Hyena’s Penis.”
I went the internet to find out what this species was and was able to identify it as Amorphophallus dracontioides. In ancient Greek, “amorpho” means “misshapen” and “phallus” means “penis.” Additionally, “draconti” means “dragons” in Latin. The Latin species name identifying it as a “misshapen dragon’s penis” lines up with the phallic Mampruli name. Turns out the Dagomba call it a donkey’s penis and the Hausa call it a dog’s penis.
The Amorphophallus genus is famous for containing the “corpse flower” species, some of which grow over seven feet tall and 4 feet wide.
A few months later, I was hiking near Kpatiritinga east of Sakogu and I noticed some plants with yellow berries on them amongst the rocks. Upon closer inspection, I realized theses were the spadix of Amorphophallus dracontioides with their spathes dried up and flowers in bloom. The ripe berries turned orange and had seeds inside them.
I wish I had thought to gather some of them to take back to BMC as we have some wooded areas with boulders where they would probably grow well. (Though Heidi questions whether I really want the plant’s dead animal smell near our house)
Uses of the Amorphophallus Dracontioides
Amorphophallus dracontioides flowers grow up and out from a large tuber under the ground. This tuber can be used as a “famine food” once it is processed to remove irritating chemicals (slicing, repeated washing, soaking, and boiling for 1 or two days).
The Fula of Nigeria have used the plant to treat snake bites while other Nigerian peoples have used it to poison arrowheads. Its other medicinal uses range from treating asthma to hemorrhoids to easing labor pains during child birth.
Historical Photos of the Flower
The British Museum’s collection of images has a photographic print by Mary S R Sinclair on February 29, 1936 entitled “Cobra in Grass” that was taken near the White Volta River and Pong-Tamale. She identified the flower as a “cobra lily” but the out-of-focus subject appears to be an Amorphophallus dracontioides and the time of year matches that flower’s blooming period.