So what is this Corpse Flower – Amorphophallus titanium – everyone is talking about?

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Corpse Flower / Titan arum

 Scientific Name: Amorphophallus titanium

Recent months [especially August and September of 2015],  has created quite an interest in a rare flower Amorphophallus titanium, also known as Corpse Flower. In August 2015, a corpse flower dubbed as “Spike” was about to bloom, but could not open. Interestingly a month later, its sibling “Alice” bloomed and delighted everyone! These two ‘Spike” and “Alice” created quite a buzz in Chicago. Since its bloom is an extremely rare event in the plant kingdom, I thought it would be interesting to put together some information on this plant.




To begin with: why the strange name “CORPSE” flower?
– The flower rarely blooms, but when they do, the plant produces a strong, pungent odor to attract pollinators. The stinky smell is likened to that of corpse, so the name corpse flower. For more details about the titan arum, please scroll down.
– Technically it’s NOT a flower.. it’s an inflorescence – or cluster of flowers. In fact, it is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. Interestingly, the largest single flower on earth is Rafflesia arnoldi – also from the rainforests of Sumatra – and is also called the Corpse Flower.







Titan arum - Flower structure

Titan arum – Flower structure





The structure of titan arum consists of a tall spadix (flower structure) wrapped by a spathe (a frilly leaf). The spadix rises from a corm (a type of underground tuber or bulb that can weigh more than 100 pounds). The true flowers (about 750 female and 450 to 5,000 male) are located in two rings at the bottom of the spadix.

Going in a bit more detail, the structure consists of: corm, flower-bud, spandex, spathe, fruit and leaves.
CORM: is the giant underground tuber that is the power behind the flower.
FLOWER-BUD: The flower-bud can take about 2 weeks for the bud to reach its full size of 6 to 8 feet.
SPIKE/ SPADIX: The titan arum’s flower is actually a flowering spike, called an inflorescence. The spike or spadix support the much tinier flowers, both male and female, in rings at the base.
SPATHE: It is not the petal but the frilly modified leaf. When closed it protects the flowers inside. When open, it attracts the pollinators.
FRUIT: It a titan arum is pollinated, it produces red-orange berries atop the stalk left after flower called peduncle.
LEAF: It has about 8 to 15 feet tall tree-like leaf, which collects sun’s energy.


Some Fun Facts about Titan Arum


NOT A FLOWER: The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is not really a flower. Technically it’s the largest unbranched inflorescence [cluster of flowers] in the world. The largest single flower on earth is Rafflesia arnoldi – also from the rainforests of Sumatra – and is also called the Corpse Flower.

NOTE: Chicago Botanic Garden has been tending to about 8 titan arums since 2003. In August 2015, one of them came close to blooming. It was nicknamed “Spike”. It was the first ever titan arum to bloom in the garden, and also the first ever in Chicago. But, it did not bloom, and its spathe was cut open and put on display. Surprisingly, a month later, another corpse flower, named “Alice the Amorphophallus” bloomed.

For more on corpse flower “Alice the Amorphophallus”.. click here..
For more on the story of corpse flower “Spike”.. click here..

EXTREMELY SLOW TO GROW: It generally requires between 7 to 10 years of vegetative growth before blooming for the first time. After its initial blooming, there can be considerable variation in blooming frequency. Some plants may not bloom again for another seven to 10 years while others may bloom every two to three years. This particular titan arum “Spike” has been raised at Chicago Botanic Garden since 2003.. so it is blooming after 12 years.

EXTREMELY FAST TO FLOWER: While the life cycle of titan arum is a slow process, flowering happens fast. And it is unpredictable. The flower bud takes about 2 weeks to mature. Once it opens, the full bloom cycle is very short – only one to two days. The bloom typically opens between mid-afternoon and late evening and remains open all night. Most flowers begin to wilt within 12 hours, but some have been known to remain open for 24 to 48 hours.

FLOWERING CYCLE:The flower bud takes about 2 weeks to mature. The spandex rises 4 to 6 inches daily. It grows to about 6 to 8 feet tall, and the spathe begins to unfurl. Flowering often starts in the afternoon, as the spathe opens and the first whiff of scent comes from the true female flowers hidden deep inside the “vase”. The fragrance [or stench in this case] is very powerful and disgusting and lasts for a few hours. At night the stench becomes overpowering. The revolting smell attracts pollinators. In its natural habitat on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, the fragrance is used to attract the carrion-eating beetles, dung beetles, and flesh flies that pollinate the titan arum. The inflorescence’s deep red color and texture contribute to the illusion that the spathe is a piece of meat. By day break the stench begins to dissipate. Then its time for male flowers to release their pollen. It coats the insects that have gathered. The spathe closes and the spandex collapses. All this is within 24-48 hours. After the successful pollination, a cylinder of berry like seeds form. Native birds feed on these berries spreading their seeds.

EXTREME STENCH: Titan arum is also known as CORPSE FLOWER because of the unbelievable stench. The experts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in California describe the nauseating stench as “a combination of limburger cheese, garlic, rotting fish, and smelly feet.” The smell has been variously described as that of rotting flesh, rancid meat, rotting animal carcass, old dirty socks, and even the smell of death itself, which accounts for the plant’s common name, the corpse flower. The potency of the odor gradually increases from late evening until the middle of the night and then tapers off as morning arrives.

NATURAL POLLINATORS: Dung beetles, flesh flies and other carnivorous insects.

NATURAL HABITAT: The titan arum is a rare plant, native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, which is its only natural habitat. There may be only one plant per about 100 acres in the wild. Human activity are already taking its toll. There is an estimated loss of 72% as deforestation from the logging industry and the oil palm plantation degrades the ecosystem of the area.

The Science behind the stink, color and temperature, was explained by floriculturist Tim Pollak, in an interview by Alina Bradford of Live Science.. [Corpse Flower: Facts About the Smelly Plant] here..
There is a good reason for the plant’s strong odor. “It all comes down to science,” said Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden. “The smell, color and even temperature of corpse flowers are meant to attract pollinators and help ensure the continuation of the species.” The dung beetles, flesh flies and other carnivorous insects are the primary pollinators of this type of flower. These insects typically eat dead flesh. The smell and the dark burgundy color of the corpse flower are meant to imitate a dead animal to attract these insects. Corpse flowers are also able to warm up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 Celsius) to further fool the insects,” Pollak told Live Science. “The insects think the flower may be food, fly inside, realize there is nothing to eat, and fly off with pollen on their legs. This process ensures the ongoing pollination of the species. Once the flower has bloomed and pollination is complete, the flower collapses.”





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