Friday, May 7, 2010


Alocasia brisbanensis (Alocasia macrorrhiza var. brisbanensis)
Cunjevoi are not something that people grow for their flowers. (They do it rarely and erratically.) The giant, bright green “elephant ear” leaves are the reason it is popular in gardens.
Technically speaking, this is a multiple flower-head, with tiny flowers on the central spike (attracting the attention of an insect in this photo). The spike (or “spadix”) is surrounded by a protective spathe, which unwraps as the flower-head matures.

Then, as the flowers die, the spathe splits and droops, and for a brief time turns this lovely apricot colour. (These photos were taken by one of the popular trails in the Bunya Mountains National Park, two weeks ago).

Meanwhile, the fruits are developing on the spike, and by June they will be bright red.

Cunjevoi are common plants in our local rainforests and shady creeks. Their juice is said to be an antidote to the sting of our native rainforest stinging trees. Those who’ve used it have conflicting opinions on its effectiveness.

These plants are so characteristic of our local rainforests that their inclusion is almost essential in any Australian rainforest-style garden.
They are frost tender, and grow best when well watered - even in shallow water (pH 6.4 is ideal). However, like so many of our local native rainforest plants, they can cope with periods of dry, especially if well mulched. Gardeners in the inland may prefer to grow them in tubs, on shaded patios or indoors, where they can get a bit of mollycoddling. They grow well in areas of very low light.

Cunjevoi are “Aroids” - members of the Araceae family, all of whose members are poisonous.
Despite this, a great many of them are popular garden plants (anthuriums: arum, calla and madonna lilies; philodendrons; Dieffenbachia; Caladium; Chinese lucky plants... etc, etc) and others are used as food. Taro is a staple for many Polynesians and Africans. Both the leaves and the roots can be eaten, but must be very thoroughly cooked first. The same goes for cunjevoi’s close relative, “giant elephant ears” Alocasia macrorrhiza, whose stem is widely eaten in South-east Asia. Cunjevoi shoots are eaten by aborigines, but once again, only after prolonged cooking to remove the toxins.
Poisonings from Aroids do occur. They are usually of children under two years old (and pets) who have taken a bite of the leaves - but in practice, these poisonings are rare. Bright berries might present a greater risk, tempting the littlies to take a munch. I think there is currently an increased risk of children being poisoned this way, with the popularity of “bush tucker” gardening, which does suggest to children that sampling strange-looking foods is OK.
Those whose gardens are used by small children need to consider whether this plant is a safe one to grow - or at the very least might take the precaution of removing the seedheads, which is easy enough to do.

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