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Stinky Flowers

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Photograph of the U.S. Botanic Garden Amorphophallus titanum (Titan Arum)in full bloom taken on the morning of July 22, 2013. Photo credit : U. S. Botanic Garden

As the world was on royal baby watch there was another arrival that folks have been waiting for here in D.C. (and perhaps the world as well) – the blooming of the Sumatran (Indonesian) Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) a.k.a. the corpse flower or stinky plant at the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG).

Like the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s His Royal Highness Prince [name] of Cambridge,  the rumored expected date for the titan arum was last week which caused many of us to every day diligently check the USBG webcam to monitor its status or visit the plant in person at the USBG. My colleague and I visited the USBG titan arum on Friday June 19 to admire its grandeur and offer it some words of encouragement.

And then it happened:  the flower bloomed! As you can imagine, those of us on titan arum watch are ecstatic about its final arrival. It happened on Sunday June 21 in the early evening and by 7:30 pm it was in full bloom. You can view the titan arum at the USBG  time lapse video on YouTube. When in bloom, this plant will smell like rotting meat. Unfortunately it tends to bloom for 24-72 hours, and then it will collapse or close. We don’t know when it will bloom again. We might need to wait for 7 years, or more, for another bloom from this plant!

The executive director of the USBG, Holly Shimizu, shared with me that its titan arum is just about 8 feet tall (average heights for this plant is 6-8 feet, with some plants growing up 12 feet in the wild) and weighs between 80-100 pounds (some of these plants can weigh up to 170 pounds!)

Photograph of the U.S. Botanic Garden Amorphophallus titanum (Titan Arum) in full bloom taken on the morning of July 22, 2013. Photo credit : U. S. Botanic Garden

The titan arum is without doubt enormous, but it is not technically the world’s largest flower. The titan arum is actually made up of an arrangement or clusters of many small flowers, making it an unbranched inflorescence, and not a single flower. It is, however, the world’s largest flowering inflorescence.

The honor of the largest flower–that is a single flower bloom—goes to Rafflesia arnoldii, also hailing from the jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia– and also known as the corpse flower for its pungent aroma of rotting meat.  You can learn more about these large flowers from the Library’s Everyday Mysteries website:  What is the largest flower?

There are digital materials about these plants available from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) where you can learn about the history of its discovery and cultivation. When searching the BHL make sure to use the Latin names: Amorphophallus titanum or Rafflesia arnoldii. For example, you can learn about the Titan arum’s cultivation at the New York Botanical Garden published in articles from the August 1937 issue of the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden.   The Library of Congress partnered with BHL in February 2013 and will be contributing to the digitization of historical science literature in the collection. All material will be online, free and available to the public.

And if you are looking to find more information about the history of plant discovery, check out the LC Science Tracer Bullet: Plant Exploration and Introduction.


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