Way-Out Wednesday, Wacked Plants Edition: The Corpse Flower!

Corpse 3_11_2015

Amorphophallus Titanum,Copyright 2015 Liz Vitale

Amorphophallus titanum.

Huge.

Beautiful.

Rare.

Incredibly smelly.

Native to the  rain forests of Sumatra, the Amorphophallus titanum, or Titan Arum,can climb up to six feet tall when in bloom,opening to more than a yard across. But the plant is perhaps most famous for its truly noxious odor, which is akin to rotting flesh; hence its nickname, The Corpse Flower. The reason for that stench is that powerful odors attract pollinators—-flies.

A Titan Arum in bloom is as rare as it is amazing. A plant can go for many years without flowering, and when it  does the bloom is fleeting, lasting only one or two days. Some plants may not bloom again for another 7–10 years while others may bloom every two to three years. Some people travel around the world hoping to see a Titan at the moment it flowers. For botanists and the public, being “in the right place at the right time” to see one of these magnificent plants in bloom can be a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Botanical gardens that cultivate a Titan often have skyrocketing attendance when the flower opens.

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. Attenborough felt that constantly referring to the plant as Amorphophallus on a popular TV documentary would be inappropriate.

Analysis of the chemicals produced in the plant’s stink show that it includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), dimethyl disulfide, trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid (sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol (sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like mothballs).[

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