Wednesday, 6 January 2010
Cadaverous beauty: The Corpse flower
After a trip to D.C.'s botanical garden last February, I discovered a rather strange looking plant that stayed in my mind for months. More recently, I rediscovered this nefarious beauty in the newspaper as it is currently about to bloom in several places worldwide. It is garnering much publicity thanks to its odd shape, odoriferous stench and ominous name. It is also considered the world's stinkiest flower, taking years to bloom, some gardeners have reported up to 40 years.
That's a long time to wait for a toxic smelling flower which when in full blossom, only lasts for about three days. It doesn't give the flower hunter much time, so if you hear about one of these unique plants getting ready to bloom in a botanical garden near you, I suggest you go see it, you will not be disappointed.
Called Amorphophallus titanum, or more commonly, "The Corpse Flower", this plant is most famous for its foul-odor which is similar to rotting flesh. It's Latin name also has an unusual meaning--amorphos, is "without form, or misshapen," phallos, literally means "penis", and titan, "giant"... translation: Giant mis-shapen penis flower. At this point, I am sure I have piqued your interest.
Amorphophallus titanum is a species of the arum family, the same family that includes those elegant and exotic anthuriums and calla lilies. The Corpse flower is native to equatorial rain forests and open grasslands, in particular Sumatra, Indonesia. It can reach more than 6 feet in height, and when it blooms, its diameter ranges from 3-4 feet.
The corpse flower shows up in a lot of botanical gardens around the world, such as the Kew in London (I saw it when I was there last year--though not in bloom) and D.C.'s botanical gardens, where it's cousin, the Devil's Tongue, was in bloom when I in February. The plant can be pollinated, which cuts down on its bloom time wait. Doing this takes careful skill, botanists must use a paintbrush to dab "donor" pollen to the receptive stigmas of the female flowers on the first night it opens. This can be tricky as the window of opportunity lasts only a day when the female flowers are available.
The Devil's Tongue, Amorphophallus rivieri
This past July, the largest recorded flower was grown in Río Blanco, in Veracruz, México. People from all over the country came to smell its rancid odor and admire its huge, umm, phallic shaped flower, and it abruptly died within 72 hours. Perhaps a bit short on lasting power, but long on stamen it seems.
For more information on Amorphophallus titanum, visit The Huntington Botanical Library.
Virginia Tech's Biology Department