Amorphophallus titanum is the full name of this wonder of nature, and a worthy name it is! As most biological names, it comes from Greek, from amorphos (=without form), phallos (=penis) and titan (=giant). You could say its name loosely translates as “shapeless titan penis” – gotta love botanists for their creativity.
Amorphophallus titanum is a giant flower, and much like the largest one around, Rafflesia Arnoldii, emits a scent similar to rotten meat, in order to attract pollinators from as far as possible; for this reason, it is sometimes even called the corpse flower. To be even more efficient, it actually heats up the spadix to vaporize the odours and send them even further away. For example, in one experiment, the temperature of the plant was measured to be 24C (75F), and the temperature of the spadix was a whopping 39C (102F)! How does a plant generate this much internal heat? Scientists are still not certain, but it seems that it is using a chemical reaction characteristic to warm blooded animals. Its inflorescence can reach 3 meters in circumference, weighing 100 kilos or more and when it blooms, its scent is so bad you need some heavy resilience to keepyour food in your stomach. However, it’s this smell that attracts its food, beetles and flies; but not insects are eaten – some serve a different purpose. Through a number of ingenious insect traps, these pollinating insects are kept inside to deposit pollen of the female flowers, which open one day before the male flowers. The insects are not devoured, and sooner or later, they escape to pollinate other flowers. The next day, when the male flowers open, the female flowers will already be non receptive, thus avoiding self pollination, which can cause a detrimental lack of variance. Many flowers that can self pollinate have mechanisms to avoid it when they have another option.
The plant generally remains open 24-48 hours and requires numerous months to bloom, which is why there have been under 150 blossoms recorded, despite the fact that it’s relatively easy to cultivate. Seriously, if you live in the right climate, with some well thought care, you could grow it in your back yard. Also, another interesting fact about it is that it was elected as the official flower of the Bronx in 1939, but was replaced in 2000 (I wonder why). Oh well…Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2009 ZME Science
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!