Plant of the week: Amorphophallus titanum

This week, I have chosen a plant that produces one of the largest flowering structures in the world Amorphophallus titanum. Demonstrated in the picture below, when in flower, Amorphophallus titanum, produces an inflorescence containing a red collar (termed spathe) and a large central spike (termed spadix). The flowering structure can grow to 3.5 metres in height [1]. Its flowering time is irregular and unpredictable. As such in botanical collections, the flowering of Amorphophallus titanum often makes the headlines with keen plant hunters wishing to catch a glimpse of this rare display.

Amorphophallus titanum
Edited from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

This fascinating angiosperm has another intriguing feature. When in flower, the plant releases an odour similar to that of rotting flesh. The odour is so distinct that in Indonesian the plant is known as bunga bangkai, or corpse flower. This smell, originating from the spadix, attracts pollinators which tend to be insects that feed or lay eggs on dead animals. These insects become trapped overnight aiding in pollination. When Amorphaphallus titanum is not flowering, it produces a tall leafy structure that gathers energy from the sun in preparation for flowering.

IMG_6631

Geography

It is found on steep hillsides of rainforests in Sumatra and Java at elevation of approximately 120 to 365 metres above sea level. It is currently recognised as vulnerable by the IUCN red list. The ecosystems of this part of the world are under major threat due to deforestation for timber and oil palm production. Deforestation is continuing at an alarming rate directly affecting habitat coverage as well as the diversity of seed distributors and pollinators [2].

Why is it my plant of the week?

This plant is used for ornamental displays in botanical collections and can be an immensely popular visitor attraction. I was fortunate to see this plant in flower on multiple occasions at Kew Gardens in the Princess of Wales conservatory. I viewed the wonder and fascination of visitors to the garden when they saw this bizarre, unusual plant. Amorphaphallus titanum typifies the diversity of plant life that I discussed in my second post.

If you want to learn more:

  1. Plants of the World Online. 2018. Armophophallus titanum. Retrieved from http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:84456-1.
  2. Lobin, W., Neumann, M., Radscheit, M. & Barthlott, W. 2007. The cultivation of Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum ) – a flagship species for botanic gardens. The Journal of Botanic Garden Horticulture. 5.

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