Scientifically classified as Amorphophallus titanum, the titan arum is a fascinating plant endemic to Sumatran rainforests. Not only is it huge (some specimens are over 20 feet tall!), but it has another interesting feature about it: it absolutely stinks.
Why does this plant smell bad, and where can you see this huge flower in person to get a whiff of it yourself? In this article, we will address everything you need to know about the titan arum, including what it is, where it grows, and why it is also known as the corpse plant. Let’s get started!
What is the Amorphophallus Titanum?
Growing from a large tuber buried deep underground, titan arum plants are known for their huge inflorescences or flowers. In fact, the titan arum has the largest flower of any other plant in the world, and its spadix stretches high into the air above its petals. Speaking of the petals, these flowers are green on the outside, eventually blooming to reveal a deep maroon interior.
While the petals of this flower are deeply wrinkled and furrowed, it resembles human flesh in both texture and scent. As it blooms and ages, the corpse-like smell increases, reportedly smelling like sweat and rotten eggs as well.
In fact, the center of the titan arum, also known as the spadix, has the ability to warm itself up, furthering the smell that it emits. These plants can heat up their spadixes to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why they are able to smell so bad!
But this still doesn’t explain the big question: why does a plant this large and impressive also need to smell so stinky, and so much like the rotting stench of death?
Why Does the Titan Arum Plant Smell Like Death?
The primary reason why the corpse plant smells like death is simple. This large and imposing plant is primarily pollinated by flies or other insects that are attracted to the scent of dying things. The rotting smell associated with this flower allows it to attract pollinators and therefore pollinate itself, despite its flowers needing an average of a decade to fully form.
Speaking of pollination, titan arum plants are unique in that they do not bloom frequently. While the blooming time varies depending on the specific specimen, most titan arums bloom every few years or even decades, depending on their care and other unknown factors. They are incredibly unpredictable. While flies or other insects best pollinate these plants, self-pollination has occurred. Even assisted pollination by skilled botanists has also been successful.
These flowers only bloom for 24 to 48 hours before they begin to wilt, making their pollination time even more necessary. The spadix heats up during this blooming time. It pulsates rhythmically and releases its unique aroma. This ensures that the flower gets pollinated before this process becomes unviable and the flower dies.
How Big is the Titan Arum Plant?
Depending on the specimen, the average titan arum plant grows anywhere from 5 feet to well over 10 feet tall. This is their inflorescences alone; they can reach over 15 feet in width. Including their spadix, many titan arum plants reach nearly 20 feet tall, which is a dizzying height to think about. Considering this height, many of these plants weigh over 300 pounds. Their tubers or corms weigh 100 pounds on average.
To have such a large, strange plant grow and bloom on rare occasions means that the titan arum is a bit of a superstar. The select greenhouses and botanical gardens that grow them host viewing events whenever their flowers are blooming, bringing throngs of people interested in seeing these spectacular stinkers for themselves!
Speaking of, are you interested in viewing a titan arum plant in person? Here are some of the locations that offer this to visitors, when their flowers happen to be blooming.
Where Can I See a Titan Arum Plant in Person?
Titan arums are rare and grown only in specialty botanical gardens, research centers, and educational facilities. Some plants are kept in private collections as well. Here’s an incomplete list of titan arum plants that have been grown in public locations:
- United States Botanical Gardens (Washington, D.C.)
- Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (London)
- Botanical Garden, Hamburg (Germany)
- San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers (California)
- Huntington Library (California)
- Cairns Botanic Garden (Australia)
- Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (China)
- Many others; be sure to check your local botanical gardens or universities!
Keep an eye out for botanical gardens and research centers that host titan arum blooming events. Given the unpredictable nature of these plants, this is a rare and prized sighting. Plus, where else will you be able to smell a flower as unique as the corpse flower?!
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- A torch in the rain forest: thermogenesis of the Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), Available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1438-8677.2008.00147.x