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Source of A. Titanum


Me:  My name is David and I am addicted to aroids.

You:  Hello David.

Me:  I have been Aroid free since July 1995, when upon my retirement, I 
donated my collection of over 25 years to the Huntington Botanical Gardens.  
Included in this donation, which took them five truckloads, were 17 
Amorphophallus titanum plants.  According to my notes, 5 of these were in 
their third growing season and were in 5-gallon containers.

This year, as all of the bloomings of A. titanum have taken place (Selby et 
al), I have been curious as to the source of their plants.  Prior to the 
1990's, there were very few A. titanums outside of Sumatra.  I remember in 
1988 when I visited Munich Botanical Gardens, J. Bogner pointed to a clay pot 
containing a. dormant A. titanum tuber (or so he told me) and we each duly 
genuflected.  

Then, as we all know, an emergency room physician from San Francisco, by the 
name of Jim Simon, came on the scene.  Jim's hobby was photographing rare 
plants in situ (in their native habitat).  In Sumatra he came across the rare 
A. titanum as well as other rare Amorphophallus.  He, as well as another 
fellow by the name of James Trice, both collected and distributed some seed.  
James Trice died, but I think in 1993 or '94, Dr. Simon took Wilbert 
Hetterscheid with him to Sumatra and showed him the locations.  Jim Simon was 
concerned with the wholesale harvesting of A. titanum tubers, which were 
being ground up for use as a medicine or as a cosmetic (I can't remember).  
Sometime later, Dr. Jim Simon passed away.

In 1992-93 (I have lost all of my notes and correspondence from moving to 
Texas after my retirement), Dewey Fisk called and asked me if I would like 
some seed of A. titanum, which absolutely blew my mind.  The last call I had 
like that was some ten years earlier when David Burnett of Australia told me 
about some previously thought extinct Alocasia he had collected in Borneo.  
It seems that USDA had confiscated seed from a Dr. Jim Simon at the port of 
entry in Detroit.  At that time, Dewey worked for the Florida Agricultural 
Department and had friends with the USDA, who managed to get the seeds 
shipped to Florida.  Dewey cleaned them, got them passed by USDA, and sent 
them off to a few friends.  The five larger specimens I gave to the 
Huntington were from this group.  Then Jim Simon offered to get seed for all 
interested (I think this was either before or during the Hetterscheid trip, 
but a young friend of Simon's in Sumatra was the recipient of the funds), and 
we each put up $100 for ten seed (I think we also got some seed of 1 or 2 
other rare Amorphophallus).  The other ten A. titanums I donated were from 
this group.  I know that he obtained seed for interested folx at least one 
other time, when a similar deal was done.  I did not participate further.

At one time in my life, I was the editor of the Newsletter of the 
International Aroid Society and received a very interesting letter with 
photographs from a scientist at the Palmgarten in Frankfurt.  He reported 
success in tissue culture of A. titanum.  I believe that this was a few years 
before the seeds from Jim Simon.  I reported this in an issue of the 
Newsletter.

I repeat all of the above history not only so that due recognition can be 
given to Jim Simon as all of these plants bloom, but wondering if he was 
really the source of all of these plants or if some came from other sources.  
Perhaps credit should also be given to the scientist from the Palmgarten.  I 
am curious as to what others have to say about this.

David Leedy






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