Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Amorphophallus titanum

The titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum (from Ancient Greek amorphos, "without form, misshapen" + phallos, "phallus", and titan, "giant") is a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence (flower) in the world. The titan arum's inflorescence can reach over 3 metres (10 ft) in height. The "fragrance" of the inflorescence resembles rotting meat, attracting carrion-eating beetles and Flesh Flies that pollinate it. Due to its odor, the titan arum is characterized as a carrion flower, and is also known as the "corpse flower", or "corpse plant" The flower's deep red color and texture contribute to the illusion that the spathe is a piece of meat. During bloom, the tip of the spadix is approximately human body temperature, which helps the perfume volatilize; this heat is also believed to assist in the illusion that attracts carcass-eating insects.

Both male and female flowers grow in the same inflorescence. The female flowers open first, then a day or two following, the male flowers open. This prevents the flower from self-pollinating. After the flower dies back, a single leaf, which reaches the size of a small tree, grows from the underground corm (underground plant stem). The leaf can reach up to 20 ft tall and 16 ft across. Each year, the old leaf dies and a new one grows in its place. When the corm has stored enough energy, it becomes dormant for about 4 months. Then, the process repeats. The corm is the largest known, weighing around 50 kilograms (110 lb). When a specimen at the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew Gardens, was repotted after its dormant period, the weight was recorded as 91 kilograms (200 lb).

The popular name 'Titan arum' was invented by the broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, for his BBC series 'The Private Life of Plants,' in which the flowering and pollination of the plant were filmed for the first time. Attenborough felt that constantly referring to the plant as Amorphophallus on a popular TV documentary would be inappropriate.