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 neglected beauty in the newspaper... it's about to bloom in several places worldwide and is receiving quite a bit of publicity. Why? Well, for one it's the world's stinkiest flower that is known to take up to forty years in some locations to bloom.

Every fourty years?! Talk about neglected beauty... and when it does bloom, it only lasts for three days. The flowers is called Amorphophallus titanum, or more commonly, "The Corpse Flower", for it's famous foul-odor, 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. Ummm, ok, I think more info is required here...

Amorphophallus titanum is a species of the arum family, the same family that the elegant and exotic anthuriums and calla lilies are in. 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.

It shows up in many botanic gardens around the world, such as the Kew Gardens in London (I saw it--though not in bloom) and D.C.'s botanical gardens, where it's cousin, the Devil's Tongue, was in bloom when I went last February. The plant can be pollinated, which allows its bloom time less of a wait. Doing this takes careful skill; botanists use a paintbrush to dab "donor" pollen to the receptive stigmas of the female flowers on the first night it blooms. 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, (uh... phallic) bloom where it abruptly died within 72 hours. Perhaps a bit short on lasting power, but long on stamen. What a flower!

For more information on Amorphophallus titanum, visit The Huntington Botanical Library.

Virginia Tech's Biology Department


lifeshighway said...

whew, I need to take a cold shower.

moonlight said...

That flower is something else for sure :D
Kisses guapa.

arifmustapha said...

love it!!

Amy Brecount White said...

Hello! You might be interested in checking out my YA novel, FORGET-HER-NOTS. It's about the language of flowers coming to life -- magically!


Anonymous said...

we once had one at uc Berkley it cleared out the campus the day it bloomed back in the 80s but it was amazing to see

Unknown said...

Where did you get the information that this plant blooms only every 40 years? From what I can find, the native plant in the wild blooms every 1 to 2 yrs. When grown by people it blooms anywhere from 1 to every several years. Thanks.


Flower Spy said...


Both the Kew Library and Cornell University has info on the Corpse flower. Its history is fascinating-- a very rare plant that is becoming more popular, receiving lots of press. It can indeed bloom in less time, sometimes less than 10 years, (or in your case 1+ years, which is rare), but it is a difficult-to-grow-plant unless the growing conditions are just right. Thanks for the drive by and happy gardening!

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