Also known as the corpse flower – due to the strong odor reminiscent of rotting flesh – Amorphophallus titanum is widely regarded as the largest flowering plant in the world and one of the most spectacular too. Sir David Attenborough is credited with shortening the name to the titan arum as he felt that a name such as the Amorphophallus titanum was too scientific for the purposes of his documentary.
The flower is native to the Indonesian island Sumatra and because of its rarity and sheer size, they are often cultivated by private collectors across the world. However, they only bloom on average once in a decade and even then, they only last around three days before they wilt.
The flower secretes its smell from a chimney like funnel with a spire protruding out from the top, and while it may not prove appealing to humans, it does attract all manner of insects to pollinate the bloom. Nearly all the species of the Amorphophallus secrete a foul stench that resembles rotting meat which can make it highly nauseating for botanists to deal with.
Though, it should be mentioned that not all species of the plant smell awful. The Amorphophallus haematospadix for example, is known to smell like bananas whilst other similar species can smell like fresh carrots.
Currently, the record for the biggest cultivated titan arum is held by Louis Ricciardiello from New Hampshire, USA, who in 2010 owned a plant that stood at more than 10 ft high. This broke the previous record held by the botanical and zoological garden Wilhelma, Stuttgart, whose plant was still a respectable 9’6 ft.
The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London is home to around a dozen titan arums and draw in lots of people every time one is due to bloom.
They certainly are a sight to behold and if you have the chance to see one bloom, you won’t regret it!
Watch the clip below from the Eden Project to see the massive flower in full bloom.
Interested in the history of other plants? Discover the many uses of Sanseveria: “The Swiss Army Knife of the Plant World”
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