What makes the Titan Arum so special?
The Titan Arum or Corpse Flower is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. An inflorescence is a floral structure composed of many smaller individual flowers. The bloom of the Titan Arum is typically between 6 and 8 feet tall (the largest on record was just over 10 feet tall) and it emits a foul odor of rotting flesh, thus the name corpse flower. These plants are uncommon in cultivation and blooms are even more rare. The plant also produces the largest leaf in the world reaching 15-20' high.
Why does the bloom stink?
The bloom uses the scent of rotting flesh to attract pollinators, mainly flies. The first evening of bloom is when the female flowers are open and receptive to pollen. This is the time when the bloom smells the most so it can lure in flies which hopefully have visited another Titan Arum bloom recently and are carrying pollen. The tall center part of the bloom, the spadix, actually heats up the first night to help disperse the odor far distances. The temperature of the spadix will reach about 98F, about the same temperature as the human body.
What is the lifecycle of the Titan Arum?
The image below will help to explain the lifecycle. The seed will germinate and grow into a small leaf with an underground tuber, similar to a potato. After 12-18 months the above ground leaf will die back (just like tulips in summer) and the plant will be in dormancy for 3-6 months. When a new bud appears, the emerging leaf will be larger than the previous leaf. Meanwhile the tuber below ground continues to grow larger. The plant will go through many dormancy and leaf cycles through its life. On the rare occasion, instead of a leaf emerging from the dormant tuber, a bloom emerges instead. Typically the plant needs to be at least 7-10 years old and the tuber at least 35 lbs in weight before it will bloom.
Where does the Titan Arum come from?
It is native to the rainforests of Sumatra in Indonesia. Already uncommon in the wild, the Titan Arum is under additional population pressure as their native habitats are rapidly being destroyed primarily due to illegal logging and land conversion for agricultural use to feed a growing population. Titans are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
How did OSU get a Titan Arum?
Our Titan Arum was planted from seed in November 2001 in the OSU Biological Sciences Greeenhouse. The seed was obtained from the University of Wisconsin-Madison from "Big Bucky" which bloomed in June 2001 and was hand-pollinated with pollen preserved from "Mr. Magnificent", a May 2001-blooming Titan Arum at the Marie Selby Botanical Garden. This is the first documented Titan Arum grown from seed to bloom in Ohio. We have 5 specimens in the collection from this lot of seeds.
Who discovered the Titan Arum?
In 1878, the Italian natural scientist Odoardo Beccari discovered the Titan Arum during his exploration of Sumatra. He collected seeds and sent them to Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, where he had once studied. The first bloom of this species in cultivation occurred at Kew in 1889.
How do they get named?
There is a tradition among conservatories where the Titan Arums have bloomed to name them as they bloom. In 2011, when OSU's first Titan Arum bloomed, we decided to name it "Woody" after OSU legend and beloved football coach Woody Hayes. We are carried on the tradition of naming the blooms after notable Buckeyes by naming the 2012 specimen "Jesse" after OSU track star and Olympian Jesse Owens. In 2013, the "Woody " specimen bloomed for a second time and we had a third specimen bloom, named "Maudine." Maudine's namesake was the 1926 OSU Homecoming Queen, Maudine Ormsby, who also happend to be a cow!
Do I have a Titan Arum growing outside in my Ohio garden?
No, the Titan Arum is tropical and will die in freezing Ohio winters. We receive many inquiries about a "tall stinky flower" growing in Ohio gardens. There are a number of Voodoo Lilies which are related to the the Titan Arum. The Voodoo Lily blooms can be up to 6 feet tall however, the peduncle (bloom stalk) makes up the majority of the bloom's height. For the Titan Arum, the peduncle is only 6-8" of the 6-8' bloom. The spathe (frilly outer skirt) can reach 3-4' wide on a Titan Arum.
List of OSU Titan Arum blooms
- April 23, 2011 "Woody" height 65.75"
- May 25, 2012 "Jesse" height 67.5" successful pollination produced fruits
- May 14, 2013 "Woody" (second bloom referred to as "Woody 2") height 72.5"
- May 24, 2013 "Maudine" height 54.5" successful pollination produced fruits
- August 23, 2013 "Scarlet" height 66.5"