Noteworthy Books related to Amorphophallus titanum (corpse flower)
Amorphophallus titanum - titan arum or corpse flower at NYBG
What is it?
Amorphophallus titanum, known as corpse flower or titan arum, is native to the island of Sumatra in western Indonesia. It is celebrated for its enormous, malodorous flower spike—the largest unbranched inflorescence in the Plant Kingdom. In this bizarre flower tower, rings of male and female flowers are produced at the base of a fleshy central spike called a spadix, which is surrounded by a frilled spathe. The spadix can range from 6 to 12 feet tall. As the common name “corpse flower” suggests, Amorphophallus titanum in bloom smells strongly of rotting meat. This stench attracts pollinators that feed on dead animals. The deep red color at the center of the open spathe perpetuates the meaty illusion.
Titan arum at NYBG in 2016
Titan arums take years to form flower buds, but when they finally do, the flowers mature quickly. Horticulturists noticed the flower bud had formed on Friday, July 15. The plant was moved to the Conservatory on Monday, July 18. In the first several days of the bloom cycle, this bud grows about four to six inches per day. Then growth slows significantly. The two bracts at the base of the spathe shrivels and falls off. Next, the spathe, which was once tightly wound around the spadix, begins to open, revealing the deep red color inside. Staff and visitors observed this process beginning after much anticipation on the afternoon of July 28. During bloom, the spadix self-heats for a period to approximately human body temperature, which helps disseminate odor particles and by the afternoon of July 29th, the odor was detectable in the conservatory. The spathe unfurls over the course of about 36 hours (full bloom) before withering and dying back.
Why is this so rare?
A young corpse flower takes about seven to ten years to store enough energy to begin its bloom cycle. Each year, the plant’s corm (a tuberous underground root structure) bears vegetation that grows up to 15 feet tall. The umbrella-like structure resembles a tree but is technically one enormous leaf made up of many small leaflets, branching from a stalk called a petiole. The leaf gathers energy from the sun to store in its corm. This specimen was accessioned by The New York Botanical Garden in 2007. It has been carefully nurtured by horticulturists in the Nolen Greenhouses for nearly ten years, storing enough energy year by year to prepare for this bloom cycle. Afterward, it will be another several years before this plant is ready to bloom again.
How is the corpse flower cultivated?
This Amorphophallus titanum has been nurtured in the warm tropical zone of the Nolen Greenhouses. The hot and humid conditions in the greenhouse mimic the natural conditions of its native Sumatra. The enormous corm—which can weigh 200 pounds—is potted on a thin cushion of sand and covered with 2 to 3 inches of fertile soil. The plant must be watered and fertilized copiously—corpse flowers are heavy feeders.
Amorphophallus titanum at NYBG
Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari was the first Westerner to encounter this plant in 1878. Beccari sent seeds and corms to Europe for cultivation. NYBG received its first Amorphophallus titanum in 1932. The sixty-pound corm was planted in a wooden tub and placed above the surface of an aquatic pool here in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. By 1936, the corm had grown to over 100 pounds. In May, 1937, the flower bud appeared and the Conservatory was mobbed with news photographers and newsreel cameramen. The flower began to open at lunchtime on June 8, when photographers and Garden staff were all at lunch! Though the bloom began to close slightly the next morning, the spadix remained upright for another three days before suddenly collapsing. Generally the life cycle of the bloom is only one or two days.
A second specimen received in 1935 bloomed on July 2, 1939. Bronx Borough President James J. Lyons commemorated the event by designating Amorphophallus titanum as the official flower of the Bronx on July 5, saying “its tremendous size shall be symbolic of the large and fastest growing borough in the City of New York.” Sadly, the Bronx’s official flower was replaced by the nicer-smelling, but much less special day lily in 2000.