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WATCH: A Voodoo Lily That Smells Like a Corpse Is Discovered in Bicol

The plant is critically endangered. 
IMAGE MAVERICK TAMAYO
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There is a very rare and unknown plant that grows in the forests of Bicol, Philippines, and scientists have only recently documented its existence. The Amorphophallus caudatus belongs to a family of voodoo lily, which is also a member of the gabi plant, whose leaves are used for making the Bicolano delicacy, laing

The voodoo lily from Bicol, which is one of the most peculiar species of plants in the Philippines, was discovered by Maverick Tamayo and researchers from the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative during one of their field reconnaissance work in the forests of Camarines Norte in 2020. 

Amorphophallus caudatus

Photo by Maverick Tamayo.

“It is one of the tallest and weirdest flowers in the plant kingdom,” Tamayo tells Esquire Philippines. Instead of a fragrant aroma, the flower emits a carrion scent, similar to the smell of a decaying corpse. 

“Many of the species under this genus emit a carrion scent during the flowering period. In the Philippines, out of the 17 species known to exist in the country, 16 are endemic or only found in the Philippines and nowhere else in the world,” says Tamayo. 

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According to Tamayo, the flower emits a very strong unpleasant scent to attract pollinators such as flies and beetles. 

Bicol Voodoo Lily Critically Endangered

Photo by Maverick Tamayo.

Unfortunately, Tamayo and his team did not find as many individuals of the species during their fieldwork. 

“The plant is rare in the area and was only observed at one location in the forest,” Tamayo and his co-authors wrote in a paper published in the Nordic Journal of Botany

Because of its rarity and sparse occurrence in the region, Tamayo and his team ascribed it a conservation status of Critically Endangered, according to the standards set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN. Fewer than 250 mature individuals were observed with an extent of occurrence of less than 100 square kilometers, and an area of occupancy of less than 10 square kilometers.

“Anthropogenic disturbances such as coconut plantations in the lower part of the area are seen as potential threats to the species,” wrote the authors. 

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It is not the first time Tamayo has discovered rare plant species in the Philippines. This year alone, he discovered an ultra-rare species of fire orchid, which he named fire flower

Tamayo has also discovered a separate species of voodoo lily in Bohol, which he named Amorphophallus calcicolaHe hopes that by bringing more attention to these undiscovered and endangered species, the public and the government can work together to protect their habitat. 

Maverick Tamayo is a Biology instructor at the Department of Biology College of Science, University of the Philippines Baguio. He chairs the UP Baguio Native Plants Committee and heads the research committee of the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative, Inc.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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