Monday, October 24, 2011

Pua Kalo: the taro flower in our garden

We were completely surprised and delighted to find this flower in the kalo patch. I'd never heard of taro flowers! Since the plant is propagated through vegetative means, I guess I assumed that it didn't flower.

We only discovered this treasure it because of the sound. The sound of dozens of swarming fruit flies, that is. They were all over that flower for the first day it opened, when it had a wonderful rose-y-butter-y smell.

kalo flower just opening, surrounded by swarming fruit flies
oriental fruit flies on kalo flower
 By the next day the flies had completely disappeared, and the flower was open.

kalo flower day two, fully open and without scent or flies
So, of course, I researched a bit about kalo flowers. The "petal" is a leaf that protects the flower stalk. The stalk has female flowers on the bottom, male flowers on the top, and some sterile flowers in between. It turns out that flowering is rare, and the anatomy of the flower discourages natural pollination. If our kalo flower does get pollinated, it will form a bunch of berries at the base of the stalk (maybe looking like this). Plant breeding programs have found a way to induce flowering and hand-pollinate to attempt to make new and interesting varieties.

Since kalo is propagated vegetatively, by transplanting corms, the strains we use are clones of ancestor plants and don't have much genetic variation. The potential for breeding kalo is kind of exciting.

But, there are already a ton of kalo types and the ancient Hawai'ians were quite adept at knowing where and how to grow each. I should learn to handle the kalo we have before daydreaming about new varieties!

1 comment:

  1. I have a taro in my yard and It's just starting to flower in Waimanalo