Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The giant leaves and flowers of the titan arum are produced from an equally enormous tuber that lies under the rainforest soil, and acts as a food storage organ (4). Each year the leaf dies back before a new one develops but eventually the inflorescence begins to emerge in its place, growing at an amazing 10 cm a day (3). Once the spathe has unfurled in all its glory the female flowers are ready to receive pollinators. The spadix heats up emitting a putrid stench that has lead to the Indonesian name for this flower of 'bunga bangkai' or 'corpse flower' (2). It is thought that the smell helps to attract carrion beetles or sweat bees from far away; once inside the welcoming spathe they are trapped, unable to scale the smooth walls or the bulge in the spadix that tops the flowers. Male flowers release their pollen the next day and the appendix of the spadix begins to wither, thus allowing the insects to escape, brushing through the pollen on their way (2). This mechanism of consecutive flowering means that self-fertilisation is prevented (5).  After flowering, the enormous spathe petal collapses and twists around the base of the spadix, protecting the developing fruit within. As the fruits ripen, the spathe completely rots away leaving the bright red berries on display to be eaten, and therefore dispersed, by rainforest birds such as hornbills (2).
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Description

The spectacular titan arum produces the world's largest compound flower or inflorescence; the largest of which is reported to have reached 3.5 metres tall (2). Years may pass between flowering events but when the time does come this plant produces a truly spectacular bloom. A large bud appears on the forest floor and with remarkable speed the flower grows and opens to its full size (4). As with all members of the Arum family the inflorescence consists of a petal-like structure known as a 'spathe' and a flower-bearing spike, the 'spadix'; the whole structure is borne on a stout stalk only 25 – 35 cm high (2). The spathe resembles an upturned bell with a frilly margin, the outside is pale green but when it unfurls the inner crimson walls are displayed (3). The spadix emerges above the spathe, the upper portion is known as the appendix and is brownish-yellow in colour. The male and female flowers are situated on the lower portions of the spadix where they are sheltered by the giant spathe. The tightly packed cream male flowers are found in a band above the female flowers (2). Once pollinated, the female flowers develop into olive-sized bright red fruits that are carried in cylindrical clusters up to half a metre long (2). The single leaf of the titan arum is also gigantic in size; resembling a small tree rather than a leaf, it can tower up to 5 metres tall and divides into an umbrella-like canopy that can be 7 metres across (2).
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Distribution

Range

Endemic to Sumatra in the Indonesian archipelago (5).
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Ecology

Habitat

The titan arum dwells in the rainforests of western Sumatra, on steep hillsides that are 120 – 365 metres above sea level (2).
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Oils vaporize to create scent: titan arum
 

Oils in the titan arum plant are volatilized to release its unique scent by raising the internal temperature.

   
  "To produce its perfume, the plant [titan arum] raises its internal temperature several degrees above that of its surroundings and vaporises oils secreted in its heart." (Attenborough 1995:140)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Optical illusion may attract insects: titan arum
 

The spathe of the titan arum may attract insects by creating an optical illusion of radiating bright light, using a delicate shading of red pigment that turns to white at the very bottom.

   
  "Looking down into [the spathe's] depths, there seemed to be a light shining up from the bottom. The illusion was created by a fine shading of the red pigment that turned to white at the lowest point. If any insect flying in the neighbourhood was positively attracted by bright light - and there are many which are - then the spathe's colouring might have been an optical inducement to fly down to the depths of the great funnel and reach the flowers clustered around the base of the spadix." (Attenborough 1995:139)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Bract forms waterproof structure: titan arum
 

The spadix of the titan arum plant is protected from water by a specialized bract called a spathe, that clasps the spadix tightly enough to form a waterproof bag.

   
  "The tall grey spadix [of the titan arum], which is filled with cobweb-like support fibres, becomes flaccid, topples forward and droops over the margin of the spathe. The spathe itself contracts inwards and its upper margins start to twist round the lower part of the spadix, clasping it so tightly that a huge water-tight bag is created. Safe inside it, the ovaries of the fertilised female flowers begin to swell." (Attenborough 1995:136)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Fibers keep tall spikes upright: titan arum
 

The tall spadix of the titan arum plant remains upright because it is filled with cobweb-like support fibers.

   
  "The tall grey spadix [of the titan arum], which is filled with cobweb-like support fibres, becomes flaccid, topples forward and droops over the margin of the spathe. The spathe itself contracts inwards and its upper margins start to twist round the lower part of the spadix, clasping it so tightly that a huge water-tight bag is created." (Attenborough 1995:136)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Odor attracts specific insects: titan arum
 

The inflorescence of the titan arum plant attracts specific pollinators by emitting an intense, carrion-like odor.

   
  "The titan's inflorescence is said to give off a revolting stench…As we sat beside it, the smell seemed to come in waves. Sometimes it was strong; sometimes it faded. There was no wind in the forest, so we had to conclude that the flower was sending out its perfume in pulses." (Attenborough 1995:139)

"A pronounced odor, different from species to species but usually carrion-like. A truly classical demonstration of its biological significance was given in 1926 by Knoll (1)…the odor serves the purpose of attracting large numbers of small insects-mostly Psychodid flies, but also some Staphylinid beetles-which are thereupon trapped in the floral chamber where they are held prisoner for about a day." (Bastiaan 1960:70)

Watch video
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
  • Bastiaan, J.D. Meeuse; Hatch, Melville H. 1960. Beetle pollination in Dracunculus and Sauromatum (Araceae). The Coleopterists Bulletin. 14(3): 70-74.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Amorphophallus titanum

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Amorphophallus titanum

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Status

Classified as Vulnerable (V) on the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants (1).
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Threats

The rainforests of Sumatra are under massive threat of deforestation, as vast areas are logged for timber and to make way for palm plantations. It is estimated that Indonesia has now lost around 72% of its original rainforest cover and the scale of deforestation is continuing at an alarming rate (6). As well as affecting titan arum numbers directly, the loss of habitat is also endangering species such as the rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros), which is an important seed distributor (6).
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Management

Conservation

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and Bogor Botanic Gardens, Indonesia have been working together on conservation techniques for this rainforest giant. As well as investigating propagation techniques, surveys of wild plants have been undertaken and educational materials produced (7). This plant has previously proved very difficult to grow in cultivation; ongoing research may provide the key to the continued survival of this spectacular member of the plant kingdom.
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Wikipedia

Amorphophallus titanum

Amorphophallus titanum (from Ancient Greek amorphos, "without form, misshapen" + phallos, "phallus", and titan, "giant" ), known as the titan arum, is a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. The titan arum's inflorescence is not as large as that of the talipot palm, Corypha umbraculifera, but the inflorescence of the talipot palm is branched rather than unbranched.

Due to its odor, which is reminiscent of the smell of a decomposing mammal, the titan arum is characterized as a carrion flower, and is also known as the corpse flower, or corpse plant (Indonesian: bunga bangkaibunga means flower, while bangkai can be translated as corpse, cadaver, or carrion). For the same reason, the title corpse flower is also attributed to the genus Rafflesia which, like the titan arum, grows in the rainforests of Sumatra.

Distribution[edit]

Amorphophallus titanum is endemic to western Sumatra, where it grows in openings in rainforests on limestone hills.[1] The plant is cultivated by botanic gardens and private collectors around the world.

Description[edit]

Two titan arum in Sumatra, Indonesia (ca. 1900-40); one in leaf, which can reach up to 6 metres (20 ft) tall, and one in bloom.

The titan arum's inflorescence can reach over 3 metres (10 ft) in height. Like the related cuckoo pint and calla lily, it consists of a fragrant spadix of flowers wrapped by a spathe, which looks like a large petal. In the case of the titan arum, the spathe is a deep green on the outside and dark burgundy red on the inside, with a deeply furrowed texture. The spadix is hollow and resembles a large loaf of French bread. Near the bottom of the spadix, hidden from view inside the sheath of the spathe, the spadix bears two rings of small flowers. The upper ring bears the male flowers, the lower ring is spangled with bright red-orange carpels. The "fragrance" of the titan arum resembles rotting meat, attracting carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies (family Sarcophagidae) that pollinate it. The inflorescence'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 usually 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. The leaf grows on a somewhat green stalk that branches into three sections at the top, each containing many leaflets. The leaf structure can reach up to 6 metres (20 ft) tall and 5 metres (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 four months. Then, the process repeats.

The corm is the largest known, typically weighing around 50 kilograms (110 lb).[2] When a specimen at the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew Gardens, was repotted after its dormant period, the weight was recorded as 91 kilograms (201 lb).[3] In 2006, a corm in the Botanical Garden of Bonn, Germany was recorded at 117 kilograms (258 lb).[4]

Cultivation[edit]

The titan arum grows in the wild only in the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. It was first scientifically described in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari. The plant flowers only infrequently in the wild and even more rarely when cultivated. It first flowered in cultivation at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, in 1889, with over 100 cultivated blossoms since then. The first documented flowerings in the United States were at New York Botanical Garden in 1937 and 1939. This flowering also inspired the designation of the titan arum as the official flower of the Bronx in 1939, only to be replaced in 2000 by the day lily. The number of cultivated plants has increased in recent years, and it is not uncommon for there to be five or more flowering events in gardens around the world in a single year. The titan arum is more commonly available to the advanced gardener due to pollination techniques.

The pollen area as seen from the inside (UC Davis, California)

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.[5]

In 2003, the tallest bloom in cultivation, some 2.74 m (8 ft 11 in) high, was achieved at the Botanical Garden of the University of Bonn in Germany. The event was acknowledged by Guinness World Record.[6] On 20 October 2005, this record was broken at the botanical and zoological garden Wilhelma in Stuttgart, Germany; the bloom reached a height of 2.94 m (9 ft 6 in). The record was broken again by Louis Ricciardiello, whose specimen measured 3.1 m (10 ft 2.25 in) tall on 18 June 2010, when it was on display at Winnipesaukee Orchids in Gilford, New Hampshire, USA. This event, too, was acknowledged by Guinness World Records.[7][8]

Blooming[edit]

Visitors photograph a blooming corpse flower on display at Phipps Conservatory in August 2013.

In cultivation, the Titan Arum generally requires 7–10 years of vegetative growth before blooming for the first time. After its initial blooming, there can be considerable variation in blooming frequency. Some plants may not bloom again for another 7–10 years while others may bloom every two to three years.[9] There have also been documented cases of back-to-back blooms occurring within a year [10] and corms simultaneously sending up both a leaf (or two) and an inflorescence.[11] There has also been an occasion when a corm produced multiple simultaneous blooms.[12]

The spathe generally begins to open between mid-afternoon[13] and late evening and remains open all night. At this time, the female flowers are receptive to pollination. Although most spathes begin to wilt within twelve hours, some have been known to remain open for 24–48 hours. As the spathe wilts, the female flowers lose receptivity to pollination.

Self-pollination is normally considered impossible, but in 1999, Huntington Botanical Garden botanists hand-pollinated their plant with its own pollen from ground-up male flowers. The procedure was successful, resulting in fruit and ten fertile seeds from which several seedlings eventually were produced.[14] Additionally, a Titan Arum at Gustavus Adolphus College unexpectedly produced viable seed through self-pollination in 2011.[15]

Stench[edit]

As the spathe gradually opens, the spadix releases powerful odors to attract pollinators. The potency of the aroma gradually increases from late evening until the middle of the night and then tapers off as morning arrives. Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the “stench” includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), dimethyl disulfide, trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid (sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol (sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like mothballs).[16][17]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ University of Connecticut (14 Feb 2011). "Amorphophallus titanum". Retrieved 17 February 2011. 
  2. ^ "Titan Arum Blooming". Events. UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. 2007. Retrieved 2008-10-28. [dead link]
  3. ^ "About titan arum Amorphophallus titanum". Information sheetO10. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  4. ^ "Titanenwurz — Bonner Blütenstände". 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  5. ^ "David Attenborough: a wild life". London: Telegraph. 2008-01-05. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  6. ^ Botanic Garden of the University of Bonn. "Official Homepage of the Botanic Garden". Archived from the original on 28 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  7. ^ Tallest bloom. Guinness World Records.
  8. ^ Koziol, J. 2010. "Corpse flower" makes Guinness record. Fosters, September 24, 2010.
  9. ^ Eastern Illinois University's Three Titan Arum Blooms 2012 Retrieved 2013-08-11
  10. ^ 'Big Bucky' 5/2009 and 6/2009, University of Wisconsin - Madison
  11. ^ 'Big Bucky' 5/2012 and 'Little Stinker' 9/2009, University of Wisconsin - Madison
  12. ^ University of Bonn Botanic Garden, Bonn, Germany Three blooms from one corm Retrieved 2013-08-11
  13. ^ Eastern Illinois University's Three Titan Arum blooms 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-11
  14. ^ Huntington Botanical Gardens, California Self-pollination. Retrieved 2013-08-11
  15. ^ Gustavus Adolphus College Self-pollination 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-11
  16. ^ American Chemical Society. The Chemistry of the Corpse Flower's Stench 2013
  17. ^ Cornell University. What made 'Wee Stinky' stink. 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-11

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bown, Deni (2000). Aroids: Plants of the Arum Family. Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-485-7
  • Association of Education and Research Greenhouse Newsletter, volume 15 number 1.
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