Botanics’ ‘corpse flower’ preparing to bloom for second time

PHD student Hannah Wilson and horticulturist Paula Maciejewska-Daruk will monitor the plant daily. Picture: Neil Hanna
PHD student Hannah Wilson and horticulturist Paula Maciejewska-Daruk will monitor the plant daily. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE world’s smelliest flower, which stinks of rotting flesh, could be preparing to burst in to bloom in Edinburgh for only the second time.

The giant Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) is known as the “corpse flower” because of the stench it emits while in full bloom.

It last flowered at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in June 2015, attracting more than 20,000 people to experience the smelly spectacle, before it wilted.

Now experts believe the specimen, which took 12 years to nurture in a special tropical glasshouse, could bloom again this summer.

It has rocketed up to a height of 61cm and is growing around 5cm per day – matching the 2015 rate, when it eventually grew to 2.8m.

RBGE staff are now taking measurements every 24 hours to record its rapid growth, as well recording soil temperatures.

Sadie Barber, Senior Horticulturist at RBGE, said: “The Amorphophallus titanum is one of the most remarkable plants in our collection, and we are one of the few UK gardens to have the conditions required to grow this species, from the tropics of Sumatra.

“We are eagerly waiting to see if we have another flower, but for now the plant is keeping us guessing.

“We are collecting as much information as we can from our plant, to better understand it both scientifically and horticulturally.”

The corpse flower 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 in a first for Scotland.

The stunning full bloom, which lasted for four days, was one of the tallest on record and measured 2m in diameter at its peak. Before it wilted, pollen was taken and sent to the Eden Project in Cornwall, where it was used to pollenate another flower. Bright red fruits were produced containing seeds that were then returned to Edinburgh and planted in compost for the future.

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.

Dr Mark Hughes, tropical botanist at the RBGE 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.

“The Amorphophallus titanum is the one that gets most attention, and rightly so. It’s like having a botanical panda baby, except it will be bigger, smellier and die back after three days.”