World's smelliest flower produces offspring at Royal Botanic Gardens

THE WORLD'S smelliest flower, which reeked of rotting flesh when it burst in to bloom in Edinburgh last summer, has produced offspring it was revealed today.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 13th July 2016, 1:11 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th July 2016, 2:17 pm
World's smelliest flower produces offspring. Picture: Royal Botanic Garden
World's smelliest flower produces offspring. Picture: Royal Botanic Garden

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) was the first of its kind ever to flower in Scotland.

Dubbed “New Reekie”, the so-called corpse flower shot up to 2.8m tall and produced an eye-watering stench of “dead-meat” -- a natural mechanism to attract pollinating insects in the wild.

Before the giant flower wilted, pollen was taken and sent to the Eden Project in Cornwall, where it was used to pollenate another flower.

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As a result, bright red fruits were produced containing seeds that were then returned to Edinburgh and planted in compost.

Now 16 of them have sprouted in the attraction’s research glasshouse.

Currently just a few inches tall, they could potentially flower simultaneously in around seven years time -- and produce an even more unbearable smell.

Sadie Barber, RBGE’s senior horticulturist said today/yesterday [WED]: “When our flower bloomed, we collected pollen and sent it to the Eden Project because they had one flowering a few days later.

“So our flower was the ‘father’ of the fruit that they produced, and theirs was the ‘mother’.

“They got the fruit successfully and they sent the seeds up to us. We sowed them in January and about five weeks later we got germination of 16.

“They are just a few inches tall at the moment, but each of those leaves that we’ve got growing at the moment produces a small underground corm.

“In around seven years these will become the next generation of flowers.

“If we grow them in the same conditions and feed and pot them the same, then we could potentially have several flowering at the same time.

“That might mean we could have 16 flowering at once -- and the smell that goes with them.”

RBGE’s original plant came from a corm nurtured in the glasshouse for 12 years before it flowered in June last year.

More than 15,000 people visited the Gardens to see, and smell, the foul flower before it began to wither and return to dormancy.

It is thought it could bloom once more as soon as next summer.

Miss Barber said: “It goes through a cycle. It is storing enough energy underground to hopefully produce another flower.

“If we are lucky it could be as soon as next year, but it may take longer.”

And if the young plants grow like the original, RBGE may need a bigger premises.

Sadie added: “It would be fun to have several flowering in succession, but we might struggle to find where to put them.

“The one from last year is in a 1000 litre plant pot -- we’ve only got one of those.

“We would have to dedicate an entire glasshouse to the project.”

Amorphophallus titanum is native only to the Bukit Barisan range of mountains in West Sumatra, where it is now classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants.

During its short flowering period it uses a “dead-meat” stench to attract pollinating insects such as carrion beetles and flies, which are drawn to the smell.

The smell itself is caused by a mix of gases emitted by the heating up of parts of the central flower spike at night.

The RBGE was gifted its corm in 2003 by Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, Netherlands.

The heaviest corm ever recorded, at 153.9kg, it produced seven leaves in 12 years before finally producing its first flower last year.

The stunning full bloom, which lasted for four days, was one of the tallest on record and measured 2m in diameter at its peak.

Amorphophallus titanum literally translates as “giant misshapen penis”.

The common name of titan arum was developed by Sir David Attenborough while filming The Private Life of Plants, as the Latin name was thought inappropriate for a BBC audience.