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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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Source: ARKive

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