Brian O’Brien of Gustavus Adolphus College has sent along an important message for those of you who like big flowers that stink of rotting meat—they’ve got one.
In 1993 I obtained seeds of the plant Amorphophallus titanum (common names: Titan Arum; Corpse Flower) from Dr. James Symon, who had made a trip to Sumatra to collect seeds. The plant is considered to be endangered in the wild, and, at the time, was being dug up on a massive scale for use by a commercial concern for the manufacture of an exotic cosmetic formulation.
Amorphophallus titanum is one of the great wonders of the living world. It produces the largest known inflorescence of any flowering plant, and is thought to be pollinated by beetles that are normally attracted to rotting flesh. These insects are attracted by the fragrance of the inflorescence, which is known to strikingly and strongly resemble that of rotting flesh. I cannot confirm the nature of the fragrance personally, but hope to be able to do so soon. Our largest, most vigorous plant of Amorphophallus titanum is currently growing a shoot that we think has a good chance of being an inflorescence. The alternative possibility is that the shoot will produce a leaf (if so, it will probably be one of the largest leaves ever produced in Minnesota, exceeded only by the leaves of some of the palms in the Como Conservatory in St. Paul).
Amorphophallus is genetically related to familiar plants such as Callas and Jacks-in-the-Pulpit. I will not further describe it here, but will instead use a cliche – “A picture is worth a thousand words.” See this link for numerous photos of Amorphophallus titanum in flower: http://www.flickr.com/groups/titanarum/pool/
We now have a webcam set up for our plant; the web image is renewed at five-minute intervals. The camera is currently taking images close to the plant, so that some details of the patterns on the shoot can be seen. We plan to move the camera day-to-day so as to show the diversity of patterns.
We have also set up a blog for the plant. I have posted numerous photos of various activities such as un-potting and measurement on the blog, along with further information on Amorphophallus titanum. Please feel free to read the entries, view the photos (the thumbnails are linked to larger images) and make comments. The blog link is: http://blogs.gac.edu/arboretum/category/titan-arum/ Each blog entry contains a link to the webcam.
A stop-motion video of the initial growth of the shoot can be seen on the GusTV Events page It may also be downloaded directly: https://gustv.gac.edu/pastevents/titanarum-Mar28-Apr18.mp4
Further photos of our Amorphophallus titanum, along with photos of its relatives in the Gustavus greenhouse collection, can be seen at:
ohh. interesting. I’d love to see one of them.
Hold on a second! I watched David Attenborough’s “the private life of plants” (Attenborough is my hero), and they found out that sweat bees (or flies? i think it was bees… something having to do with sweat… but not beetles) are the ones that pollinate A. titanum
And here I thought you meant:
Great White Wonder says
By the way, there are some smaller species of Amorphophallus that are easier to grow. And there are relatives like Drancunculus vulgaris that have huge flowers and stink just as bad but just about anyone can grow in the ground (they are like weeds in my yard).
And there are some equally cool plants in the genus Ariseama which also utilize the “corm” strategy.
Check ’em out at Plant Delights Nursery online.
Plants are cool. Way cooler than squid.
Heh. Amorphophallus titanum–“ah’d purely love to see it angry”.
The Brroklyn Titan Arum also had a blog while it was blooming:
I saw (and smelled) the Titan Arum at the Brookyln Botanic Garden when it was in bloom – it was quite spectacular, although the odor was not nearly as putrescent as I had been led to anticipate. Apparently the real stench tends to happen during the night.
Maureen Lycaon says
I had the privilege to see an Amorphophallus at Huntington Botanical Gardens in 2002, although by that time the bloom had mostly closed. Oddly, at that point it smelled more like gasoline (to my nose) than carrion. Even so, there were still flies buzzing all around.
Thanks everyone, for your comments so far. There have been several frissons of fascination since we noticed a crack in the center of the potting medium a few weeks ago. TAW, thanks for your comment on pollination – I’ll follow up on that. With regard to cultivation, Great White Wonder is correct in that smaller Amorphophallus species are easy to grow. We’ve also found that A. titanum is easy to grow…but there’s a space question….
I’ve been in touch with Wolfram Lobin of the Bonn Botanical Garden, where they have extensive experience with this plant (their last flowering produced three inflorescences simultaneously!), and he thinks that our shoot looks much like an incipient inflorescence. This will be the first flowering of our plant, so perhaps the inflorescence will not be of record-setting size…but that’s acceptable. I’ve been fascinated by this plant (and many others) since I was about eight years old. It’s hard to believe that one is coming into flower just down the hall from my office.
I saw the Titan at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco just this past year… it bloomed for only about 3 days, and there was a phone hotline dedicated to the status of the tuber :) I thought that was great.
And it smelled delicious… or something like it.
Also, it was as tall as me. I am 5’2″
I just looked it up.
“but it’s 9 feet tall and 3 feet across […] the titan arum”
“until this film was taken, no one was sure what insects pollinated the titan arum. as we watched we saw that without doubt the job was performed by tiny sweat bees.”
(and naturally this included video footage of sweat bees pollinating it)
it’s in the third documentary in the series (The private life of plants- flowering), and that part is near the last 5 minutes or so.
I mentioned the Botanical Garden of Bonn in a post above. Here’s a link that, among other things, details the long history of Amorphophallus titanum at that institution. The link is here.
WOW! I’d like to see that in person, and I know my daughter would go gaga over it!
now I feel bad only giving her a Stapelia gigantea for her birthday last year :(
When I first read this I pictured a flower from the genus Rafflesia (I don’t know my plants very well!) and only cleared things up when I looked at the pictures and did a little research. But has anyone ever thought about the significance (if any) of the two largest flowers on earth using the same mechanism of smelling like rotten meat for pollination? Maybe bigger flowers better imitate a carcass?
Anton Mates says
I have no data to back this up, but here’s my hunch: Such giant flowers necessarily blossom infrequently, so when they do blossom, they need to quickly recruit an army of pollinators from far and wide. Now scavenger insects like flies are already adapted to rare, huge bonanzas–large animal carcasses–so if they scent a particularly big, stinky one, they’re willing to travel long-distance to lay their eggs on it.
Most nectarivores like bees and hummingbirds, OTOH, are adapted to common but individually small food sources like your average flower; they don’t need to fly ten miles to a twenty-pound nectar vat if the trumpet vine fifteen feet away offers a decent meal. (Plus, the rafflesia at least doesn’t have any nectar, so even if a social bee did end up visiting it, it’s not going to bring its friends back.)
We had one bloom here at Madison about 5 years ago. I saw it, though not during the height of its stink, so while it was odiferous it was not overpowering.
Really cool, though, and was way taller than I am (at 6′ 3″).
Ok, I checked – it bloomed in ’01 and again in ’05. I saw ’01. They both topped out at over 8 feet. Somewhere there exists a time lapse video of the thing but I can’t find it…
G. Tingey says
is one in flower.
The next image:
gives some scale – they arte large.
At RBG, Kew, of course ….
And yes, they really do pong horrible!
The University of Washington also has a corpse flower, and at this latitude, it tends to bloom in June or July. It has a real fanbase here; maybe it should start a blog as well.
I was kind of expecting someone to notice and comment on the M*A*S*H* reference in my earlier post. If not, then I’ve just publicly outed myself as a dirty old woman for nothing. (“I’m not really a size queen; I just play one on Pharyngula.”)
My earlier attempt at a link based on a word in a sentence didn’t work, so here’s a direct paste-in of a link for the Botanical Garden of Bonn (Germany). Last year, they had a plant of Amorphophallus titanum that had three inflorescences simultaneously. They also have some fascinating graphs of the development of the inflorescence.
The inflorescence of the Corpse Flower (Titan Arum, Amorphophallus titanum) at Gustavus Adolphus College began to open last night (April 26). See this blog entry for an initial photo: http://blogs.gac.edu/arboretum/2007/04/27/the-titan-arum-is-opening/
More photos will follow as the inflorescence develops.
The Corpse Flower continues to open – the spadix has begun to appear. For the latest photos, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/aeranthes/
For the latest commentary and live webcam images, see