Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dracunculus vulgaris, or, Antics of a Dragon

The Dragon, May 25

You smell it before you see it. “Sex and Death” is what my friend April has taken to calling the short-lived Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris). Its cadaverous odor saturates the air within a 50-yard radius of the potent-looking ruffled spathe, which suggests that the flies that find it so exciting don’t have to have a particularly keen sense of smell to find it. Unsheathed and coated with a glistening lubricant the fetid purple spike must compete with roadkill and refuse cans for the attentions of its pollinators. And although they flock to the party, the flies, according to a pair of Australian researchers, are extraneous to the action. It’s the clumsy carrion beetle that gets the job done. Losing its grip on the enticing decoy (rotten meat being a slime of a different nature) and tumbling into the bulbous chamber below, the hapless beetle desperately and futilely climbs up and slips back down. Meanwhile the Dragon, in regal control of the situation, literally heats up. Soon the hostage finds himself, conveniently for the plant’s purposes, covered with pollen. Only then does the spike provide the beetle with the necessary traction to scramble out.

Sex and Death might have led to life, but for the lack of a second Dragon in the gardens at Morven. The pollen must move from one flower to another in order for fruit, and its ant-dispersed seeds, to form. The beetle willingly (we presume) moves on to visit another captivating spathe…suggesting that carrion beetles do not have a particularly keen sense of memory. Or maybe we just don’t understand the bliss that comes from rolling around in a putrid well. Regardless it is quite clear who is orchestrating the action. Like a gambling addict, the beetle proffers his services for the benefit of a body larger than he. Like a casino, the Dragon uses and then ejects the unsatisfied and (we presume) depleted beetle.
The Dragon, Spent, June 1

 But cheers to the beetle that continues to embrace the perfume of the dead, for naïveté serves body and mind better than suspicion. More often than not.