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
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
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.