Saturday, August 11, 2007

Amorphophallus titanus

It's not a curse word, believe me! It's the latin name of the extremely rare and amazing plant that recently bloomed in the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, also known as 'The Corpse Flower'. Never heard of it, eh? :) It's a tropical plant that blooms every 5-6 years. Its English name is derived from the fact that when it blooms, it really smells like dead flash for the first twelve hours. Then, it closes up again and the plant goes back to sleep. When we heard that this incredible event was going to happen, how could we not go and see? So, Lucas, Sonya and I went there last Sunday. Unfortunately the flower was just preparing to bloom, and was not smelling yet - but the show was still amazing.

The 'flower', we were told, is actually just an inflorence of this amazing plant. The plant produces just _one_ leaf, that grows up to a certain height. At the beginning, the leaf is quite small:
In the picture, you see a few of the small plants - and each of them is just one leaf. Then, the leaf dies, the plant becomes dormant for a while, and the seed that's in the ground grows and grows, till it has enough energy to produce another leaf, bigger than the previous one. After some years, the leaf really looks like a tree, such as this one:
Look at the green huge thing behind the man who's explaining to us all about the Titan. That's the leaf-plant. He said that one was probably still going to grow for another six months, and then it would die and fall on the floor (making a lot of noise). Then, the plant becomes dormant again, and the seed grows. When the seed is large and filled with enough energy, it produces.. the flower!
When you look at it you understand the reason of the Latin name. :) - that huge thing grows super fast, 3-4 inches per night. So in some weeks, it's ready to bloom. Its temperature increases of about ~20 F higher than the rest of the environment, and the 'skirt' opens. The flower is red, the smell is that of dead flesh. This combination is on purpose to invite mosquitoes and flies to arrive, thinking that they can find something to eat. The plant needs them to spread its pollen. In fact, at the bottom of the flower, there are both the female and the male reproductive organs, but the day the male part produces the pollen, the female part is not ready to receive it. The day after, the male part stops producing the pollen, and the female part is ready for it! So, of course, this is to prevent self pollination. So, the plant needs a mosquito to arrive and get the pollen on itself the day when the male part produces it, and then fly on another Titanus one day ahead in its development, with an active female part. That's a pretty slim possibility.. but it seems to work somehow!
In any case, seeing this plant (even without the smell) was a fascinating spectacle. I may decide to go back tomorrow, to see it falling down. You can see the entire sequence of its life on the Berkeley Botanical Garden website.

1 comment:

daniele said...


non trovo la tua mail per cui commento il post.

Beata te che hai visto il fiore, io, per ora, mi debbo accontentare di vedere le piante nei giardini botanici, ma niente fiore.
Sono a bogor in questo momento, Indonesia, dove c'e' un orto botanico famosissimo ed una collezioni di amorphophallus impressionante ma niente fiori! lo scorso anno era lo stesso, speriamo nel prossimo.
Dopo otto mesi di foresta nelle celebes centrali si torna in Gemania domani pomeriggio, ma non mi nego una ulteriore visita all'orto domani mattina.
una nota sul post,

cara Marta,

Io sono un Botanico tropicale, te sei italiana , fai un post sull'amorphophallus lo hai visto, avrai notato il cartelino Amorphophallus titanus Becc.
ecco che cosa e' quel Becc.
il nome del grande botanico Odoardo Beccari, grande esploratore e naturalista viaggio' per tutto il sud est asiatico scoprendo numerose specie e dedicandosi particolarmente alle palme, nel suo ultimo viaggio, da questo lato di mondo, scopri nell'isola di sumatra questo fiore "bellissimo" non credo che il Berkeley Botanical Gardens non abbia dedicato un pannello per lo scopritore, due righe nel tuo post.....

spero di visitare, prima o poi, l'erbarium di Berkeley ci sono anche i miei campioni raccolti lo scorso anno i prossimi sono in viaggio :-)

saluti da Java,