Adelaide’s Titan Arum

Today’s post is a flower picture. But not just any old flower.

The titan arum, aka the corpse flower, is one of the world’s rarest, largest and unusual flowers. Native to Sumatra, Indonesia, the titan arum was discovered in 1878. It has been cultivated subsequently in botanical gardens but flowers only intermittently. So intermittently that the flowers tend to be given a name to mark the occasion.

For the first eight years or more of its life, the titan arum grows a single branched leaf on a long stem that can be six metres or so high. During this time, the plant develops an underground corm in excess of 50 kilograms. It then enters a long dormant period while the flower forms in the corm. Somewhere around its tenth birthday, a single flower emerges.

The Adelaide Botanic Gardens has quietly been growing titan arums from seed donated back in 2006 and this year has been rewarded with not one but two flowering plants.

The second flower opened on 1 February 2016 and the conservatory in which it was located remained open until midnight that evening for visitors to observe the flower. I drove there around 10:30pm, took a look at the length of the queue to get in, and kept driving. I was keen to see the titan arum, but not that keen!

So I popped back the following afternoon after work and was able to walk straight into the conservatory.

So meet Ganteng (which is Indonesian for handsome).

Titan Arum, Adelaide Botanic Gardens

Very nice you say, but why the corpse flower? Well, for the day or two it opens, the flower emits a strong odour described as a heady mix of onion, smelly socks and rotting fish. Not a pot plant for the dining room table!

It does this to attract pollinating flies and insects to come and visit during its short life. The ‘petal’, which is in fact a leaf, is also deep maroon in colour on the inside to convey the impression of carrion. Not only that, but the centre stalk warms itself to around human body temperature to further embellish the charade. The peak of the pong comes during the first evening when it is believed the titan arum’s preferred pollinators are most active in the jungle night. The true flowers that the insects must find are quite small and hidden deep inside at the base of the stalk. Quite some specialisation!

Titan Arum, Adelaide Botanic Gardens

Ganteng, as shown here, is finishing its flowering after a day and a half, the petal is slowly closing for good, and the pong has largely dissipated. Tomorrow the whole structure will start withering away and the corm will enter another rest period before throwing up another single leaf somewhere in the next year or so. Re-flowering will occur, with any luck, in two or three years time, but could also be as long as another ten years. As I wrote at the start of this post, titan arums flower ‘intermittently’.

Titan Arum, Adelaide Botanic Gardens

This image gives you a better idea of the size of the flower. Ganteng measured just over 2 metres tall. Impressive, but some way to go to match the largest ever grown in cultivation which came in at a little over three metres.

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So there you have it, today’s flower photo.

Is any one else left thinking of Audrey II from the Little House of Horrors film?

To Learn More

Wikipedia’s article on the titan arum can be found here.

The scientific name of the plant is Amorphophallus titanum while the popular name “titan arum” was invented by the broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough for his BBC series The Private Life of Plants, in which the flowering and pollination of the plant were filmed for the first time (I do remember that segment from when it was broadcast in Australia).

I’ll let you deduce from from the Wikipedia article why he decided a name make-over was considered necessary. You may also wish to keep ‘Amorphophallus titanum’ in store as a suitable put down for the annoying person inevitably encountered at office Christmas parties!

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