Also known as the corpse flower, 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 Titan Arum as he felt that a name such as Amorphophallus titanum was too scientific for the purposes of his documentary.

Read on to find out more about this unique flower.

The history of the Titan Arum

Discovered in 1878 by Italian botanist, Odoardo Beccari, Titan Arum is native to the Indonesian island, Sumatra. Beccari sent a number of tubers back to Florence. Though most died, some seeds survived, producing a single seedling that eventually flowered in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. It took a long time to master widespread cultivation but today, because of their rarity and sheer size, greenhouses across the world cultivate them.

Titan arum life cycle

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Credit: New York Botanical Garden

The life cycle of the Titan Arum is not a quick one. The germinating seed begins to develop underground, eventually producing a singular spike that grows into a large leaf and branches into leaflets. After several months, the leaf dies and the plant becomes dormant until it starts that cycle over again. This will happen multiple times until the plant enters a flower cycle, which happens approximately every 4-5 years. The spathe begins to open, generating heat and attracting pollinators like flies with its stench (you’ll read more about this in the next section). Once the Titan Arum fully blooms, it withers very quickly — usually within a couple of days.

Is Titan Arum the worst smelling flower in the world?

Many people say, yes. Its nickname “corpse flower” sheds some light on the pungent scent that this flower emits. In order to release the smell, the plant raises its temperature, allowing it to synthesize chemicals that produce the odor. Likened to the smell of things such as decaying meats, baby diapers, stinky fish, and rotting flesh, the Titan Arum’s scent attracts insects from far and wide, thinking they’re headed toward something that died. Once they arrive, they aid in pollination and reproduction. The worst of the smell usually lasts around 4-6 hours.


Titan Arum fruit

If it is successfully pollinated, the Titan Arum can produce over 400 round fruits over the course of a few months. Starting as a gold color, the fruit becomes a vibrant red in color upon fully ripening, about six months after pollination. But even though they may look delicious, Titan Arum fruits are poisonous to humans and are instead usually eaten by Rhinoceros Hornbills.

The act of bearing fruit requires a lot of energy, so once it does produce fruit, it takes a long time for the Titan Arum to produce enough energy to flower again. That is the reason for the extended period of time between each bloom.

Titan Arums around the world

According to Guinness World Records, the tallest Titan Arum on record was 10 feet 2 inches, grown by Louis Ricciardiello from New Hampshire in 2010. This broke the previous record held by the botanical and zoological garden Wilhelma in Stuttgart, whose plant was still a respectable 9 feet 6 inches.

The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London was home to the first known cultivated Titan Arum bloom in 1889. Today, they can be found around the world in places such as:

  • San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers
  • U.S. Botanic Garden
  • University of Warsaw Botanic Garden
  • Huntington Library in San Marino, California
  • Austin Peay State University
  • And more