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