Garden Route Accommodation

Solomon’s Lily

Once a year, quite by surprise, this little beauty awakes for a few weeks and just takes your breath away. Our spectacular specimen is quite hidden away at the top of the garden next to a footpath and you do feel a sense of reward when you see it – it is in my opinion the best arum species. The spectacular  Arum palaestinum, flowering in spring on stems 50-60 cm’s tall, with large decorative leaves slightly similar to a cardiocrinum or a hosta with a superb fragrance which is a bit similar to roses. Which is also  a nice fragrant part of the Augusta de Mist gardens.

But that’s not all. Arum palaestinum, also called the Solomon’s Lily, attracts drosophilids (vinegar flies) as pollinators by emitting odor molecules that resemble those produced during alcoholic fermentation of rotting fruit initiated by yeast. The plant accomplishes the illusion of yeast simply by producing six chemicals that – together in a specific mix – create the impression of fermentation in the fly brain. The produced volatiles include two chemicals which are very rarely encountered in plants but are typical of wine and vinegar – actually byproducts of yeast activity. The scientists showed that the lily’s fragrance targets a deeply conserved neuronal pathway specifically tuned to yeast odors. Thus, the Solomon’s Lily is exploiting a million-year-old instinct in flies for its own purposes.

Many flowering plants depend on insect pollinators; they ensure that offspring are produced and guarantee genetic variability. Flowers use colorful petals and odor bouquets to attract them. Although often pollination service is rewarded with sweet nectar, Arum palaestinum tricks its pollinators. The Solomon’s Lily, produces an odor in its violet-black flowers that to a human nose is most similar to a fruity wine. It was obvious that the plant attracts pollinators with this odor, namely vinegar flies. But unlike other flowers, Arum palaestinum does not give a reward in form of nectar; in fact, flies are trapped in the flower overnight and not released until the next day.

In neurophysiological experiments, the flies were exposed to natural odor bouquets, such as the smells of rotting peaches or bananas as well as Lambrusco (red wine) and aceto balsamico (vinegar). The respective electroantennograms strikingly resembled the recordings from flies that had been exposed to the lily odor, suggesting that to a fly, these odors have a most similar smell.

The flies are unable to distinguish the lily from rotting fruit – they are deceived by the lily because it imitates the yeasty odor although it does not offer yeast as food. The insects’ involuntary pollination service is not even rewarded; in fact, just the opposite is true: the flies are trapped in the flower until it opens again after 24 hours – and they stay hungry.

Is keeping a Solomon’s lily now the ultimate solution to rid your kitchen of flies? Well, since they only flower once per year, and then only for a few hours, a cup of vinegar is still a better option.