Corpse Flower: Facts about the smelly plant

When in bloom, the corpse flower (Amorphophallus Titanum), also known as titan Arum, smells of decaying flesh and death. According to the Eden Project, this stinky plant only blooms once every seven to 9 years. Each bloom lasts between 24 and 36 hours.
The corpse flower is not only one of the most ominous plants on Earth but also boasts the largest number of flowers (inflorescence). This mysterious flower is a favorite attraction at botanic parks worldwide due to its unpredictable blooming display. Kew Gardens, UK was the first place where a corpse flower bloomed outside of Sumatra. In 1889. Since Odoardo Beccari's 1878 scientific description of the plant, it has been a fascination for botanists. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh says that in 1889.

The corpse flower, which is native to Indonesia's rainforests of Western Sumatra and Western Sumatra, has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Natures (IUCN). According to the United States Botanic Gardens, less than 1000 individuals are believed to remain wild.

Similar: Photos: Stinky Corpse Flower’ Blooms

What makes the corpse flower so unpleasant?

The strong smell of the plant is not accidental. "It all boils down to science," stated Tim Pollak, an outdoor floriculturist at Chicago Botanic Garden. "The scent, color, and temperature of corpse flowers is meant to attract pollinators. They help ensure that the species continues."

Pollak explained that primary pollinators for this particular flower are dung beetles and flesh flies. These insects eat mostly dead flesh. To attract them, the smell and dark burgundy coloration of the corpse flowers are intended to imitate the scent of a deceased animal.

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Pollak explained to Live Science that corpse flowers can also be heated up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 Celsius), to fool insects. The insects believe the flowers are food and fly inside to find out. They then fly away with pollen on their legs. This ensures that the species is continually pollinated. After the flower has been pollinated and bloomed, it will fall to the ground."

Pollak posted on the Chicago Botanic Garden blog that analysis showed that chemically, the stench is composed of:

Dimethyl trisulfide is also emitted from cooked onions and limburger-cheese.

Dimethyl disulfide has an odor similar to garlic

Trimethylamine, which is found in rotting fish and ammonia, can be found.

Isovaleric acid (which can also cause sweaty socks to stink).

Benzyl alcohol (a sweet floral fragrance found in jasmine or hyacinth).

Phenol (sweet and medicinal, such as in Chloraseptic throat spray).

Indole (like mothballs).

An anatomy of a corpse flower

According to the University of California Botanical Garden, the corpse flower is an inflorescence. This is a stalk that has many flowers. The spadix is the central phallus-like structure that contains tiny male and female flowers. It is enclosed by the spathe which is a pleated skirt-like cover that is brightly green on the outside but deep maroon when it is opened. The spadix can be pollinated to produce a large, club-shaped head of orange-red seedlings.

The height of the plant is approximately 10-15 feet (3-4.6 meters). The plant can reach a height of 8 feet (2.4m) and can have leaves as large as 13 feet (4m). The Guinness Book of World Records states that the highest bloom measured 10 feet 2.25 inches (3.1 meters) high. It was bloomed at Winnipesaukee orchids, Gilford, New Hampshire on June 18, 2010.

Corpse flower bloom

Sumatran tropical rainforest: Corpse flower blooms (Image credit: Fadil Aziz via Getty images)

According to the Eden Project corpse flowers can take up to seven years to bloom. Some corpse flowers bloom only once in a few decades.

The corpse flower doesn't have an annual cycle like many other plants. According to the United States Botanic Garden, the corpse flower blooms only when it has enough energy.

The corm, a swollen stem base that typically weighs around 100 lbs, stores the plant's energy. (45 kilograms). The largest corm known to exist in the world is found in the corpse plant. It can sometimes weigh up to 220 lbs. 100kg A single leaf, about the same size as a small tree, grows from the corm during the non-flowering year. The leaf splits into three sections, each one containing more leaflets. This shooting leaf eventually dies each year and a new one is planted in its place. The plant eventually begins to get enough energy to bloom after many years. However, it can only keep the bloom for 24-36 hours before it falls apart.

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Scientists and botany lovers can find it quite exciting because the flower remains open and emits its scent for only a few days. These bloomings attract large crowds and media attention. The New York Botanical Garden extended summer hours in July 2016 so that visitors could see the blooming flower. Visitors could watch the blooming of a corpse plant at the United States Botanic Garden in June 2021 via a live stream posted to the gardens website.

The blooming process begins in two stages, one for the female flowers and one for the male. The spadix is a ring that the female flowers create at the bottom. The male flowers form a circle around the spadix, just above the female flowers.

Carrion beetles, attracted by the smell of death and human-like body temperature, crawl inside the vase-like structure to deposit pollen on the female flowers. The second stage is when the structure collapses, the "fragrance", fades, and the insects start to fly out. The beetles rub up against pollen from male flowers as they depart and then transfer the pollen to nearby female flowers.

Fruit of the corpse flower

Corpse flower fruit. Image credit: A J Withey via Getty Images

The corpse plant will produce a vibrant red, spherical fruit if pollination succeeds. This can take several months according to Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

According to Chicago Botanic Garden, each corpse flower can produce more than 400 fruits. Each fruit contains two seeds. These fruits can ripen in a variety of colors, from gold to orange to crimson. They are edible when fully ripe, approximately six months after pollination. The Rhinoceros Hornbills eat the corpse flowers and disperse them.

The costs of producing such a large amount of fruit can take a toll on the corpse flowers. According to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh it takes so much energy for the fruit to be produced that it often results in the death the plant. There have been some corpse flowers who have survived to produce more flowers and leaves, though there are some exceptions. A corpse flower that isn't successfully pollinated will not bear any fruit, but it may continue to flower.

Name of the corpse flower

Amorphophallus Titanum is the scientific name for this corpse flower. Gustavus Adolphus College says the name derives its name from the Latin words Amorphos (without form or misshapen), Phallos (penis), and Titanum (giant).

Ross Koning, a biology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU), said that the corpse plant is also called the titan arum. According to the UC Botanical Garden a British naturist and TV producer Sir David Attenborough used the name titan arum for the BBC's series "The Private Lives of Plants". He thought that viewers might find the Latin name offensive. The Aroid subfamily includes the corpse flower. The common duckweed, skunk- cabbage, calla Lily, Jack-in-the -pulpit are all related.

Taxonomy Family: Araceae Order: Arales Class: Liliopsida (monocots)

ECSU has two types (genetically distinct individuals) of corpse flowers. Koning stated that Rhea, the local genotype of corpse flower, has been blooming many times since 2008. "Rhea is larger inflorescence pieces and has a stronger smell than Hyperion, our other genotype."

Conservation status

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the corpse flower has been classified as endangered on its Red List of Threatened Flowers.

The ICUN reports that wild copse flower populations have declined by half in the past three generations (90-150 years). Habitat loss and destruction are the main threats. The conservation of the corpse flowers is a key role played by botanic gardens all over the globe.

The ICUN reports that the plant has been grown in more than 90 botanic gardens worldwide since its inception in late 1800. Around 100 times, the corpse flower has been able to bloom outside its natural habitat.

This article was written originally by Alina Bradford, a Live Science contributor. It has since been updated

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