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?
Well, now we know that 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) – so 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 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 degrees F.
Why did you name her Bella? … Is it really a “she”?
First off, Bella is actually an “it”, since the “flower” is both male and female. Akin to naming a child, we decided on “Bella” for a couple of 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 is 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 – some with video. Search for “Titan Arum” or “Amorphophallus titanum”. Enjoy!