Corpse flower blooms for final time at Edinburgh Botanics

Botanist Dr Axel Poulsen admires the giant Amorphophallus titanum as it flowers for the last time. Picture: Scott Louden
Botanist Dr Axel Poulsen admires the giant Amorphophallus titanum as it flowers for the last time. Picture: Scott Louden
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crowds have flocked to the Botanics to catch a glance, and a whiff, of a very special bloom.

The giant Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) or “corpse flower” as it is known because of the reek of rotting flesh it emits, bloomed for the second time this week.

We have over 400 different plant species from Indonesia but this is the one that gets most attention

Mark Hughes

And the “New Reekie 2” flower has proved a hit attraction again with RBGE keeping its doors open late on Tuesday and Wednesday to allow more people an opportunity to view the “rare” spectacle.

And hundreds queued inside and outside the hothouse for a sniff as Botanic Garden staff, dubbed the titan army, entertained the crowds by relaying pungent facts about the Sumatran plant.

And as if it didn’t have enough nicknames, Tropical botanist Dr Mark Hughes added another.

He said: “We have over 400 different plant species from Indonesia in our living collection, and have led five expeditions to the country in the last two years.

“However, the Amorphophallus titanum is the one that gets most attention, and rightly so.

“It’s like having a botanical panda baby, except it is bigger, smellier and will die back after three days.”

The impressive Amorphophallus titanum flowered in Scotland for the very first time in 2015 and two years on, scientists and horticulturists have closely studied movements of the second – and probably final – flowering.

And its notorious smell, also said to resemble the sweaty odour of gym socks, is not the plant’s only accolade.

After growing for seven years, in August 2010 the corm (an underground storage bulb) weighed in at 153.9 kg, setting a new world record.

It took five staff to hold the corm and they had to borrow scales from Edinburgh Zoo to weigh it.

It has given city botanists the chance to study the plant of which much is still unknown.

Dr Mark Newman, tropical systematic botanist, said this year’s flowering has been slightly different to that of 2015.

“There are many possible reasons for this, most of them relating to the plant’s environment.

“The heavy cloud cover in the last few days will have reduced light levels and the temperature may also be lower than it was in 2015.

“Other reasons may relate to the age and condition of the plant itself – perhaps it isn’t as strong as it was when it was younger.

“Whatever the reason, there is always some variability in a plant’s response to its environment.

“After all, we respond differently to stimuli, why shouldn’t a plant?”

The plant’s native habitat is the equatorial jungles of western Sumatra in Indonesia.

And David Knott, curator of living collections at the RBGE, said news of the blooming of the endangered flower comes with a serious conservation message.

He said: “There is a serious side to our work as well.

“Like so many plants in their natural habitats, its man’s pressure that’s having an impact.”

The garden has had the plant since 2003 when a corm was gifted to RBGE by Hortus Botanicus Leiden in the Netherlands.