Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
The Botanic Garden titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum, is preparing to flower.
Also known as the corpse flower, the titan arum heats up on the first night of full flowering to produce a stench of rotting flesh that attracts carrion beetle pollinators over vast distances.
The Botanic Garden plans to open late when it is fully in flower so that you can experience the titan arum at its night-time stinkiest. We are not completely certain when this will be. We were thinking the end of this week but have now tentatively brought this forward to Tuesday 14/Wednesday 15 July.
Native to Sumatra in Indonesia, the titan arum produces one of the largest single flowering structures in the world. Flowering is a very rare event, last happening here over a decade ago. When the creamy nose of the flowering structure emerged on this 6 July last, it took us by surprise as the corm from which it grows is under the minimum flowering weight of 15kg. Dubbed therefore Tiny titan (#tinytitan) the flowering structure is nevertheless growing rapidly at 10cm every day and we expect it to reach 150-170cm.
The first indication that full flowering is imminent is a secretion that runs down from the junction between the central, spike-like spadix with the wraparound frilly spathe, which is really a highly modified leaf that forms a protective chamber around the ‘proper’ flowers. By the afternoon, the spathe begins to unfurl and the central spadix starts to heat up and smell. Overnight, the spadix emits sulphurous compounds causing a strong stench of rotting meat which lures carrion beetles down into the structure. Beetles dusted with pollen from another titan arum plant may pollinate the female flowers clustered at the base of the spadix as they search (in vain) for the rotting meat.
On the second day, the stench begins to fade and the plant’s male flowers open to release pollen onto the beetles that are now departing in search of flesh feasts elsewhere.
On the third day, the spathe closes up and eventually the spadix collapses.
We hope you will come along to experience this wonder of the plant world. Keep checking back for details!