Arum creticum - plant of the month March 2014
Arum creticum is probably the most popular member of a genus comprising around 25 species of tuberous plants. Once thought to be restricted to Crete, hence the specific name, it has been found on the island of Karpathos and on the Turkish mainland. Unlike many of its close relatives, A. creticum does not have the unfortunate habit of emitting a foul carrion or dung odour, the ‘perfume’ has been described as a ‘sweet, somewhat fruity odour’ and of ‘smelling strongly of freesia and lemon with a slight sour overtone’. It exists in several forms; the spathe may be whitish to pale or dark yellow, with some greenish staining at the base. A form which can be found on the Marmaris peninsula for example, has a reddish-brown infusion to the peduncle and leaf petioles adding interest when used as a garden plant ( see bottom image).
The typical habitat of A. creticum would suggest that it is fully hardy and for the most part it is, certainly in the south of England but it is not always the case, care should be taken when planting in an area which is known to be a frost-pocket to ensure it is given a sunny, protected spot – its overall charm and statuesque nature is well worth the extra effort. Unlike its cousin A. italicum, with its attractive foliage and rich coloured berries that are produced in autumn, it doesn’t spread itself around the garden becoming a nuisance.
Pot culture is easy; fertile, gritty soil and fairly deep pots will give good results. Wait until growth is apparent and then start watering; liquid feed should be given to plants that are growing strongly. Constant moisture is the key, plants that dry when in full growth respond badly. Propagation is either by seed, which will take 4 to 5 years to reach flowering size, or if a ’good’ clone is the subject, by division of the dormant root-stock.