Rare Amorphophallus titanum to Bloom at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Posted by Lia Chang on Wednesday, 09 August 2006.

Amorphophallus titanum, the world's largest and stinkiest flowering plant set to bloom August 11-13, 2006, after 10 years of cultivation at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

With a break in the heat wave that New Yorkers have been experiencing, it was a glorious day to take the subway to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to check out Amorphophallus titanum, the worlds largest and stinkiest flowering plant, set to bloom for the first time at BBG sometime later this week. After 10 years of cultivation, the birth and bloom of BBGs titan arum, also known as the corpse plant due to its signature, putrid scent, and nicknamed "Baby" by BBG gardeners, is a historic, horticultural happening.

Baby should reach full bloom between August 11-13, 2006, according to Patrick Cullina, vice president of the BBG horticulture department, and is currently on display in the Bonsai room of the Steinhardt Conservatory. The plant has not bloomed in New York since 1939.

History of Amorphophallus Titanum

Titan arum is the media celebrity of the genus Amorphophallus. While more than 170 tropical species can be found in Africa, Asia and Polynesia, the majority are of Asiatic origin. First discovered in 1878 by Odoardo Beccari while he was engaged in botanical study in western Sumatra, it was soon introduced into cultivation. Seed that Beccari sent back to Florence Orto Botanico germinated and was distributed to other gardens.

One seedling was sent to Kew, and after ten years it produced a seven-foot-tall flower head, along with a nauseous scent that came in eye-watering waves and was said to have made ill the artist responsible for illustrating it. The species has now flowered in several botanic gardens around the world. It flowers only rarely in cultivation.

In its native habitat, the corpse flower produces a horrific stench that can last about 8 hours. This scent attracts the carrion beetles and sweat bees that succeed in pollinating the numerous inconspicuous female flowers clustered in the lower half of the spike (spadix).

In the wild, the species is threatened by the rapid destruction of its forest habitat in Indonesia.

For the past decade, the Gardens world-class team of horticulturists have remarked that the plant has behaved differently each year of its growth.

According to BBG permanent collection records, the Garden received its titan arum as a small, two-month-old plant in 1996, from Plant Delights Nursery, located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bob Hayes, the plant propagator of BBG at the time, grew the titan arum in the Gardens propagation greenhouses for two years. He then entrusted it to Mark Fisher, the current foreman of BBGs Steinhardt Conservatory, who transplanted it into the conservatorys Tropical Pavilion.

Within the tropical pavilion, Fisher moved the titan several times to ensure it would get enough light, ultimately planting it closer to the pavilions south emergency doors. Baby took off with new growth and stayed in leaf for several months. However, during a New York cold spell, Baby turned yellow and collapsed. It stayed dormant for several months and Fisher feared that it was lost. In the middle of the summer it took off and grew a leaf about 6' tall, which stayed again for several months. In 2003, he decided to move Baby back into the propagation greenhouses, where it could be given the most attention. He has cared for it there ever since, in cooperation with Dr. Alessandro Chiari, BBGs current plant propagator. Coincidentally, Dr. Chiaris hometown in Florence, Italy is also the birth place of Odoardo Beccari, who discovered the species in 1878.

In its new home, the titan arum grew larger but didnt flower. In early 2006, toward the end of its most recent period of vegetative growth, the plant got so tall that one night it fell over. The plants large, single leaf was damaged and unable to hold itself up. It could have been a disaster, but the greenhouse crew worked fast to support the leaf with a splint of two-by-fours, and the plant completed its yearly cycle and took a well-deserved rest.

Around mid-June, Baby broke dormancy, producing its large bud, as it does every year. However, last Monday, July 31, Dr. Chiari realized that the titan arums bud contained an inflorescence and not a leaf a thrilling surprise for Baby's gardeners. Once Baby blooms, it will be Dr. Chiari's responsibility to pollenate Baby with pollen provided by Virginia Tech.

Baby's growth spurt was most noticable during the heat wave, averaging between 3-5 inches a day. When I was there at 4pm today, Baby measured in at 64 1/4 inches in height and 34 1/2 inches in circumference. Check out bbg.org/titan for fun photos, a blog and a 24 hour webcam documenting Baby's progress. I know I'll be watching.

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