The U of I “Corpse Flower” (Amorphophallus titanium)
This past weekend, the University of Illinois’ Plant Biology Greenhouses were the scene of great excitement. Our very own Titan Arum, called “Titania”, flowered for the first time, and thousands of people came to visit. They filed through the greenhouse to see this rare flowering plant, and to smell it. The nickname, Corpse Flower, comes from the really bad odor emitted by the flower. The plant produces two heavy sulphur-based compounds. The plant then heats up to about 100 degrees (F), to volatilize these compounds making them airborne to attract pollinators for a longer distance. It sure does smell like something rotten!
What’s so special about this flower is that it’s the first flower for this particular plant and it took 8 years to come about. An enormous amount of energy is needed to produce the flower and the seed, so the flower only remains open for about 48 hours. However, the biologists say that the next flower can be expected in only 2-3 years, now that a certain level of maturity has been reached!
Rod and I only got to see it about 24 hours after its peak, but although the frilly ‘petal-skirt’ had subsided, it was still fascinating. The greenhouse manager had cut a window in the side of the base so people could see the male and female flowers/seeds inside. After 3 days, the central phallic part had totally collapsed.
The Titan Arum belongs to the aroid family: other family members are Calla lily, diffenbachia, anthirium and philodendron. They originally come from the shady rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, and the seed for the U of I’s plant came from the University of Wisconsin, when their plant, “Big Bucky” bloomed in 2001.
The Greek meaning for the scientific name: amorpho=misshapened; phallus=phallus; titanium=giant. You only need to look at this extraordinary flower to see how accurate that is!