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Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum or corpse flower): Titan arum at NYBG in 1937

Amorphophallus titanum in bloom at NYBG in 1937; photo from the Mertz Library vertical file
Amorphophallus titanum in bloom at NYBG in 1937; photo from the Mertz Library

Amorphophallus titanum is an intriguing plant that inspires awe and excitement in many. Believe it or not, in 1937 when this species first bloomed in captivity at the New York Botanical Garden, the excitement was even more pronounced!  Here is an excerpt from a special 1937 issue of the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden detailing the cultivation of this marvelous plant.  Read the full issue including a blow-by-blow account of the 1937 blooming by T. H. Everett in the NYBG Mertz Digital Library.

"The sixty-pound corm of Amorphophallus titanum, received from Sumatra in June, 1932,  was planted in a large tub immediately upon arrival, and placed in a shaded position in the banana house in Conservatory Range No. 1.  In September it was removed to the tropical waterlily house, the tub being placed on a stand with its base a few inches above the water-level in the pool. Here, in a sunny position, a humid atmosphere, and high temperature, the plant made thrifty growth. The first leaf appeared in January, 1933, the second in August, 1934, and a third late in 1935.  Each leaf was larger than the preceding. The peduncle of the largest exceeded 6 feet in height and the diameter of the spread of the leaf was more than 10 feet. 

Between successive leaves a dormant period of a few weeks occurred, during which time water was withheld. The tuber was not removed from the soil, however, and as soon as evidence of growth became apparent again, some of the old surface soil was removed, replaced with a rich top-dressing, and watering was resumed.  During periods of active growth generous quantities of water were supplied. By fall, 1936, the tuber had grown too large for its 30-inch square tub, and was replanted in another receptacle 36 inches square and of about the same depth. The estimated weight of the tuber at this time was in excess of 100 pounds. The soil used for repotting was a good loam enriched with liberal amounts of cow-manure and bone-meal. The tuber was set on a cushion of clean sharp sand with the top two or three inches below the surface.

The first signs of growth after retubbing were noticed on April 10 of the present year, and by May 26 the growth had attained a height of 3 feet 6 inches.  At 2:30 p.m. on June 7 a small slit about three inches long appeared in the spadix, and a second slit developed about half an hour later, the slits gradually increasing in length until on the morning of the following day they reached from the tip of the spadix well down below the top of the spathe. The actual opening of the "flower" meanwhile had begun. At about 3:15 p.m. on June 7, the rim of the spathe commenced to pull away from the spadix. The temperature in the house at that time was 94 degrees The spathe continued gradually to expand until 9 p.m., by which time the temperature had dropped to 70 degrees, where it remained until morning. During the night the spathe closed in a little.  The morning was cool and cloudy until about 11 a.m. when the sun appeared and the temperature within the greenhouse commenced to rise. By 1 p.m. it had reached 90 degrees, and the spathe again began to expand. At 4 p.m. the temperature reached a high of 96 degrees, and development of the opening inflorescence continued rapidly until 7:40 p.m., when it reached its maximum.

While at the height of its development a distinctly unpleasant odor was emitted by the plant, but this in no way compared with the disgusting stench of the plant which flowered at Kew in 1926.  At 9:15 on the evening of the eighth the temperature in the greenhouse was reduced to 70 degrees and was maintained at this level through the night and part of the next day.

The inflorescence remained in good condition until June 12 and little change was noticed in its general appearance except that the spathe gradually closed inward and upward, so that its rim was raised from a height of 3 feet 2 inches to 4 feet 10 inches above ground level. On the morning of the twelfth the spadix collapsed in a forward direction without doing any material damage to the spathe, which continued to close and twisted itself together at the top in corkscrew fashion until it was completely closed. From this time on the plant slowly diminished in size. On June 29 it was removed from the tub. The tuber, which had begun to rot, then weighed 113 1/2 pounds. It measured 6 feet in circumference, at its widest part it was 2 feet 2 inches in diameter, and 1 foot thick. A large portion of its surface was covered with tiny adventitious buds and as it showed marked evidences of rotting it was decided to cut the tuber into portions and attempt to propagate it vegetatively."

Everett, T. H.

Journal of the New York Botanical Garden

1937

The Life Cycle of Amorphophallus titanum

Illustration of the lifecycle of a titan arum; courtesy of Chicago Botanical Garden
Graphic courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

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