Titan Arums are native only to the jungles of Sumatra and produce the world’s largest floral structures—imagine rounding a bend in the jungle to encounter a flower taller than you (unless you’re 10 feet tall!) Of course, they’d be hard to sneak up on when open, as the rotting meat odor coming from the fully open bloom can travel up to a half-mile away. It’s no wonder when they bloom in captivity at gardens around the world that they draw in admirers who must see (and smell) it to believe this larger-than-life botanical spectacle! Titans normally open in the evening and the intense odor only lasts for 12 hours. The bloom will stay open (with a much lighter odor) for only 1-2 days. The plant must reach 15 years of age before it can bloom for the first time, and it can only bloom again every 3-5 years.
Odie began unfurling approximately at 12:30 pm on Friday July 17th 2015, and was open by 8:00 pm and filling the greenhouse with a pungent odor of dead animal mixed with burnt sugar. By 11:00 pm, the spathe opened even wider and flattened out. This is when John Denti attempted pollination (at full intensity of odor!). Saturday morning the spathe began to draw back in, displaying a beautiful form. This short-lived bloom is as expected and part of the allure of this amazing plant. Years worth of energy go into a gigantic display designed for one night only!
Timelapse of Odie Blooming
Bella bloomed for the second time in her life June 22-June 24, 2010. Her first bloom was in 2007.
Thank you to everyone who came out to share in her spectacle and to support the greenhouse and gardens (her humble caretakers)!
Like a chance siting of a movie star, you can hardly believe you are seeing a celebrity before she has ducked into a limo and driven off. We believe the super-high temperatures contributed to Bella’s rapid aging (we were all fading quickly in the heat!). Most likely she was fully open and at her stinkiest during the middle of the night between Tuesday the 22nd & Wednesday the 23rd. By the end of the 24th, her petal-like spathe was withered and we pronounced the bloom over on the 25th. Thanks to the speed of communications these days, the word got out quickly and we estimate that we had about 4,000 visitors over a three day period.
Where does the Titan Arum come from?
The Titan Arum grows in the moist, shady jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia.
What a weird looking flower. Is it really the largest flower in the world?
The Titan Arum produces the largest unbranched, inflorescence in the world. The largest of these recorded in cultivation was over 9.5 ft tall! An inflorescence is a structure containing multiple flowers. The Titan Arum bears a special type of inflorescence that looks like one gigantic flower. The tall slender central spike actually bears hundreds of tiny male and female flowers at its base. These little flowers at the base of the spike are hidden by the pleated sheath surrounding it. This sheath will open up at bloom and look like a sort of giant, frilly, maroon petal. Botanists call this sheath and spike type of inflorescence a “spathe and spadix.”
Plants that produce these spathe and spadix blooms are in the arum family of plants. A local member of this family is the woodland “Jack-in-the-pulpit.” Jack is the spadix and his pulpit is the spathe.
Does it really smell that bad?
Yes, but not for long! The plant produces waves of odor that have been variously described as smelling of rotting animal, dung, and rancid cheese. The Indonesian name for the Titan translates as “corpse flower.” Thankfully, these odors are only produced for 8 to 24 hours, corresponding to the “ripening” of the tiny female flowers, followed by the tiny male flowers at the base of the spike. In the wild, the odor can carry for up to a half-mile attracting specific pollinators. Scientists have observed carrion beetles, carrion flies, and sweat bees visiting the Titan Arum in Sumatra.
How old is your Titan?
Our titan arum, “Bella” is now about 12 years old. It was about 9 years old when it bloomed for the first time in 2007.
Will it flower again?
She HAS flowered again (since 2007). The 2010 bloom is smaller (3 ft tall instead of 5). Where she goes from here we can’t say. We will certainly do our best to keep her growing, and just maybe she will grace us with a third bloom. We did pollinate with pollen from the 2007 bloom, but it is unlikely that the pollen is viable after that period of time (in the freezer). Unless that pollination results in seeds, Bella should go dormant and hopefully put out a new leaf. In the wild, individuals are estimated to bloom 3-6 times in a 40-yr life span. Plants in cultivation almost never live that long.
Where did you get “Bella”, your Titan Arum plant?
We got ours as a small tuber from Tony Avent, of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh. Tony is a fan of many plants in the same genus as the Titan Arum. Some species of Amorphophallus are actually winter-hardy in the Carolinas. These plants are much smaller than the Titan Arum, but still fascinating, and even smelly in their own right. The Titan Arum is extremely sensitive to cold and must never be exposed to temperatures below 50° F.
Why did you name her Bella? … Is it really a “she”?
Bella is actually an “it or “they” because the “flower” is both male and female. Akin to naming a child, we decided on “Bella” for several reasons. Bella is Latin for beautiful, and we are so proud of this flower that, despite its smell, we can only think of it as wonderfully beautiful. Additionally, the shape of the spathe surrounding the spike is that of an inverted Bell.
Is it rare?
In its natural habitat it has a limited range, but until recently was uncommon (but not rare) within that range. Unfortunately it is now becoming rarer and rarer. Due to habitat destruction and illegal collecting of the tubers. A good number of botanical gardens around the world (and even individuals) have specimens, but they require specific growing conditions to thrive, and there is no guarantee they will ever bloom. Being lucky enough to have one bloom in cultivation is the rarity.
Where are the stems and leaves of this plant?
The Titan Arum grows out of a large, underground corm, which is very much like a bulb or tuber. The corm is actually a compressed underground stem that looks like a roundish, flattened potato. The corms of some Titans have weighed in at over 200 lbs!
At different stages during its life the Titan’s corm is either dormant underground, or bearing a giant compound leaf or a solitary, giant inflorescence. In other words, the leaf and the flower never exist on the plant at the same time. After the Titan blooms, its amazing “flower” will wither and collapse, but the corm below ground will remain. After a short period a giant leaf will emerge. The leaf is spectacular in its own right. Its stalk is up to 12’ tall (taller in the wild), colored with splotches in shades of green and cream, and appearing somewhat like a giant, lacy umbrella. Although it looks like a weird sort of tree, it is truly just one giant, compound leaf! The leaf can last up to a year before it turns yellow and dies. Then the plant must go through a period of rest (dormancy). During this time it exists only as the underground corm.
Where can I find out more about the Titan Arum?
The web is full of information on this fascinating, dramatic plant. Most gardens and universities that have had one bloom have pictures and information. Search for “Titan Arum” or “Amorphophallus titanum” Enjoy!