The flower of the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) can be up to 3 metres high and 3 metres in circumference. And the smell? Curator of Plants and Gardens Giles Palmer said: “Imagine you have the smell of rotting meat in a tin can and you open that can on the hottest, most humid day of the year!”
Experts think the plant could flower within the week.
The plant - from the rainforests of Sumatra and a member of the Arum family - is classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. It has one of the largest flowers in the world; the bloom – correctly, an inflorescence – is green on the outside and bright red inside, with ribbed sides and a frilled edge. Due to its odour – said to be like rotting meat – it’s known as a carrion flower, and has been dubbed corpse flower or corpse plant. It emits the strong smell at night to attract pollinators.
Giles: “There are probably only 100 collections in the world where you can see this plant and it can go years between flowerings, so it’s not a common sight. Sadly, they are becoming rare in the wild as people collect the seeds for profit - habitat destruction is also a major problem.”
In August 2012, Paignton Zoo Environmental Park was the first zoo in the UK to see a Titan Arum flower. Paignton Zoo has 5 Titans in total; the one about to flower is 12 years old, the oldest is 13. It can take over 10 years before a flower is produced; the tuber must weigh at least 15kg. When this one was last potted in November it weighed 44kg.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh also has a Titan on the verge of flowering. Giles is poised for a whistle-stop trip to Scotland to collect pollen or to take pollen to them, depending on which flower opens first. He is also looking to fly in pollen from the USA, where a Titan has recently flowered at Cornell University.
For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 0844 474 2222.
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