Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Corpse Flower

Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum). Corpse flower.
Brooklyn Botanical Garden. August 2006.
(Click pictures for larger view)
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"The boys' restroom smells, but the girls' restroom doesn't." ~ Devin, age 10
The titan arum is one of the world’s most remarkable plants and this one was procured by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in 1996 after being started by seed in North Carolina. The titan is native to the tropics and produces a large underground storage tuber. During the growth phase the tuber produces a single, very large leaf that absorbs sunlight and makes food to be stored in the tuber, allowing it to grow bigger. The leaf will grow for a year, then turn yellow and collapses as dormancy ensues. Dormancy usually lasts several months before a new bud appears. This will produce a leaf or a flower (followed by a leaf). It may take many years and many cycles for the plant to flower; in this case ten years.

The flower spike (spadix) surrounded by a crinkled,
pleated, bell-shaped bract (spathe).

In cultivation the leaf may reach 12 feet in height and growth is phenomenal, sometimes four to five inches a day. The rare flower bud may reach 4 to 6 feet in height. The Brooklyn titan broke dormancy in mid-June and on July 31st botanists noted the beginnings of a flower instead of a leaf. Over the next eleven days the flower spike grew 30 inches. We were visiting the gardens about five days before the bloom actually unfolded.

The spathe unfurls over two days to produce the large flower look.
This is when the stink really comes into its own.

The bloom opens in a matter of hours and lasts for only two days, at most. This "corpse" flower's claim to fame is the revolting, gross stench that disseminates when the bloom opens. It is said to smell like rotting meat or a putrefying body with a nauseous scent that comes in eye-watering waves; and so strong that the human nose can detect it over half a mile away! This attracts the carrion beetles and sweat bees that succeed in pollinating the numerous inconspicuous female flowers clustered in the lower half of the spike (spadix), when growing in its native state. The botanists become fertility doctors for those growing in "captivity". Gross enough?

We missed the smell but watched the gorgeous bloom appear via the webcam. It was a rare and beautiful sight to see; especially since we didn't have to "smell the smell"!

If that isn't gross enough for you.....
"When you lick a slug, your tongue goes numb." ~ Bethany, age 11
Here are a group of slimy, icky, squirmy slugs... just one of the "gross" creatures we can't seem to live without, although I haven't really figured out why.

The theme for Saturday Photo Scavenger Hunt this week is "gross". You can go here to "Grab the Scavenger Hunt code" and here to join the blogroll. This really cute new logo is available there as well. The link to other participants is in my blogroll on the sidebar. (end of post)

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