The corpse flower Amorphophallus titanum, also known as titan arum, was discovered in the Sumatran rainforest, and it is known to take a maximum of 20 years to bloom for the first time.
Although the name implies so, the titan arum is not a flower, but rather a large plant with several smaller flowers on the base of its stalk. It can weigh up to 110 pounds and 5 feet tall. Some specimens have been recorded to reach 10 feet tall, with 20 feet tall leaves.
The titan arums found in the New York Botanical Garden, Indiana University in Bloomington, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. will be blooming over the course of the following days. The titan arum was designated as the official flower of the Bronx in 1939 until the day lily replaced it.
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A flower no one wants to smell
It was discovered in Sumatra, Indonesia, back in 1878 by Odoardo Beccari. The species has been labeled as ‘vulnerable’ due to deforestation, which has led to a reduction on its natural sightings. It is mostly seen in botanic private and public gardens all over the world.
Its native name is bunga bangkay. Bbunga means flower and bangkai corpse, while Amorphophallus titanum comes from amorphous + phallus + titan, meaning “giant misshapen phallus.” The name Titan Arum was attributed by naturalist Sir David Attenborough as he filmed the flowering and pollination of the plant for the first time. He said that repeatedly referring to the plant as “Amorphophallus” could be taken in the wicked sense.
According to Chicago Botanic Garden’s floriculturist Tim Pollack, the plant produces trimethylamine, which smells like rotten fish, and isovaleric acid, which can be related to the smell of old and sweaty gym apparel. It also produces dimethyl disulfide, which smells like garlic, indole, which smells like human feces, phenol and benzyl alcohol, which oddly enough, smells like flowers.
Self-pollination of the titan arum is usually deemed impossible. In 1999, botanists from the Huntington Botanical Gardens managed to pollinate the plant artificially using grounded male flowers, resulting in several fertile seeds.
Watch the titan arum blossom at the New York Botanical Garden:
The Indiana Unversity’s live stream of the blooming is available here.
After cultivation, the titan arum needs 7 to 10 years of vegetative growth. As the bloom reaches its peak over the course of 24 hours and it can reach temperatures of 98 degrees, which is also a mechanism for attracting insects. Flesh flies and dung beetles become attracted by the flower’s smell, warmth, and colors and then enter its petals. When they find out that there is nothing to eat, they leave the premises covered in pollen, thus helping towards the continuation of the species. After it ends the pollination process, the flower collapses unto itself.
Watch the titan arum blossom at the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C.: