The titan arum “flower.” Among its properties:
- It’s big - up to 3 meters. The plant itself can be even larger.
- It rarely flowers. Its root takes years to store up enough energy, apparently.
- It attracts flies, so it smells like rotten meat. (It’s not carnivorous.)
- Its real name is Amorphophallus titanum (I’m not making this up.)
So this thing has been on display at the Australian Royal Botanic Gardens, and one just flowered today, I guess. The one in the middle is what I am referring to. The one on the left is about to flower. The one in the back with leaves is in “growth” mode. I put “flower” in quotes because it’s not really one flower. The stalk and wrap are just appendages. The actual multiple flowers are all on the stalk, and there are two kinds, male and female, which mature at different times to prevent self-pollination.
An Australian paper had this to say:
A native of central Sumatra’s rainforests, the rarely seen flower is said to be the world’s largest flower, standing more than a metre tall.
On the few occasions one does bloom, it produces the stench of rotting flesh, giving rise to its other common name, the carcass flower.
The plant’s powerful pong is matched by its equally unappealing scientific name. Amorphophallus titanum, explained Steve Bartlett, a senior horticulturist at the gardens, “means huge deformed —
— Okay, Steve, let’s cut you off there,
The last time a titan arum flowered in the gardens, in October 2004, 16,000 people queued for a look. It was only the second time one had opened in Australia, and one of the few times in the world, outside Indonesia.
That plant was grown from seed collected in Sumatra in the early 1990s. Sydney horticulturalists later took cuttings, successfully producing two new plants
“It was originally thought they couldn’t be grown from cuttings,” said Mr Bartlett, also responsible for plant propagation at the gardens. To his delight, both new plants produced buds.
It turns out one reason people grow these (besides the novelty) is because they are endangered. And they are endangered because, well let’s see, they waste their time growing a huge root so they can occasionally grow a huge stalk; they try to get insects to pollinate them by deceit instead of mutual benefit; a decade may pass without flowering, and then, when they do flower, they don’t self-pollinate, so they may not ever produce seeds for a new plant unless there are several of them nearby. Clearly, these things are badly evolved. Just like panda bears. Terrible.