A giant flower that smells of rotting flesh??
Yep, this is the Giant Corpse Flower, or scientifically speaking, Amorphophallus titanum. (Appropriate name, huh?)
This recently caught my attention when I was on my daily prowl on the internet searching for fun and interesting bits of science news to share with my students in my biology classroom. It seems that Cornell University has a giant corpse flower that recently bloomed. It was only one of 140 plants to bloom in cultivation in recorded history.
As you know, in angiosperms, the flower is the reproductive organ of the plant. For true land plants reproduction is tricky business. In order to be adapted to life on land, the plant must find a way to get its sperm to the egg of a different (but of the same species) plant. Sperm cells are placed inside pollen grains, and then pollen grains must be effectively delivered to nearby flowers. Pollen can be carried by wind or water, but many plants depend upon the insect pollinators to deliver their sperm cells. The flower that can best attract these pollinators has the best chance of having its eggs fertilized.
Now back to the giant corpse flower. This plant produces one of the largest flowers on record. When it opens, the smell is said to be horrific, mimicking the odor of dead, rotting flesh. The smell attracts dung beetles and flies that feed on carrion. When the insects crawl into the flower, their bodies are covered with pollen. The insects exit the flower, and move on to the next flower, transferring pollen from flower to flower as they go.
The news about the blooming of the flower at Cornell University was perfect timing for me. I was in the process of teaching angiosperm reproduction to my biology students. I did a quick YouTube search and found two short, but excellent videos to show my classes. The first is called "Corpse Flower Blooms at Zoo" and is about a blooming that occurred at the Cleveland Zoo. It has wonderful photography and my students were captivated by it.
The second video was a clip from The Private Life of Plants by David Attenborough. This clip is called "The Largest Flower in the World." This video is just a few minutes longer, and contains information about other plants, as well as the corpse flower. But anything by Attenborough gets shown in my classroom....I may be his biggest fan! Now, here is the neatest bit of information about the corpse flower being used in The Private Life of Plants. Sir David felt that the constant use of the scientific name (Amorphophallus titanum) during his documentary would be inappropriate, so he invented the popular name of "titan arum" to use during the filming of his show.
To wrap up this lengthy post, here are a few fun and interesting facts about the giant corpse flower:
- It is referred to as the corpse flower because it emits an odor resembling dead, rotting flesh.
- Flowers are either male or female. The female flower opens first. A few days later the male flower open. This prevents self-pollination.
- The titan arum grows in the wild only in the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia.
- The plant blooms rarely in the wild, and even less often when cultivated.
- In 2003, the tallest bloom in cultivation was achieved at the Botanical Garden of the University of Bonn in Germany. The bloom was 2.74 m (8 ft 11 in) high, and was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- This record was broken in June of 2010 when a flower reached the size of 2.74 m (8 ft 11 in) high in a nursery in New Hampshire.