Friday, June 10, 2011

UW Corpse Flower

(from UW Today: Sandra Hines)
The UW corpse flower bloomed overnight June 8. The greatest stench occurred around 3 a.m. Thursday and has tapered off since then.
An Amorphophallus titanum, also known as a corpse flower in its native Sumatra and elsewhere because of its foul odor, is inching closer to blooming in the University of Washington botany greenhouse. The event is expected to occur within the next several days.
Corpse flowers get their nickname because when they bloom they emit a stench like rotting meat. The smell is the way the plant attracts insects such as carrion beetles and flies to pollinate the plant.  The aroma is strongest the first evening it blooms but residual fragrance may be present the morning of the next day, something visitors have likened to the smell of latrines, gym bags or overcooked cabbage.
The corpse flower has been cultivated by UW botany greenhouse staff Doug Ewing, Paul Beeman, Jeanette Milne and Erin Forbush. UW’s first corpse flower bloom was in 1999 and it was the first in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. While coaxing the plant to bloom has become more common, much about how to trigger a bloom remains unknown. Ewing says he and his team have been fortunate to have 14 previous plants bloom, which may be more than any other university or botanic garden in the United States. Not all the UW blooms have been publicized. The last UW bloom was in 2008.

Additional facts:
  • Amorphophallus titanum is also known as Titan Arum, corpse flower or Devil’s Tongue.
  • The plant is native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
  • While the aroma is produced only briefly, the blossom can last two to four days in reasonably good shape.
  • The “blossom” is more properly called a compound flower, or an inflorescence, because it consists of many flowers.
  • Individual flowers are grouped around the base of the spadix, the columnar structure rising out of the center of the plant. Unfolding around the spadix like an upside down umbrella is the maroon-tinged spathe.
  • During blooming the mitochondria that power cell growth in the spadix change function and, instead of starches being used to grow plant material, those starches create heat that triggers what the UW botanists term “exquisitely smelly oils.”
  • There are more than 170 species in the genus Amorphophallus, many with distinctive odor and heating properties.
  • As of Monday, the UW plant was about 55 inches tall, and could grow taller before it blooms.
  • This plant was started as a seed in 1995, flowered in 2003 and then went dormant as a 50 pound tuber. Corpse flower tubers can weigh up to 150 pounds. One unusual aspect of this bloom is that the tuber remained dormant for 2 ½ years before starting to grow early this spring, Ewing said.

I went over to the Greenhouse yesterday to get a view, but the line was really long.  I was able to take a photo outside the glass (see above).  I went back early this morning  and was able to go inside and see it close up.  Not much smell emitting now and was only noticeable when I was very near.  It looked unreal - maybe even from another time.  Prehistoric.  I'm glad I got a chance to see it, just wish I'd had my better camera with me.  It will be another few years before it blooms again.  

More photos can be found on the UW Biology facebook page.  

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