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


lifeshighway said...

whew, I need to take a cold shower.

Unknown 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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