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Amorphophallus titanum
Titan Arum

Our Titan Arums bloomed again in 2012. The first flowering in Massachusetts of the rare and remarkable Titan Arum happened in August 2005 in the Lyman Conservatory at The Botanic Garden of Smith College. It bloomed again in 2008. We projected that it would be another 3 to 5 years before this particular plant would flower again. So, it was right on target again!

weighing the corm September 12, 2012 Titan arum fully open
The corm weighed 54 pounds in mid-August when it started sending up the flowering stalk. On September 12, 2012 it was about 30 inches high and the inflorescence opened fully on September 24.

 

Slide show of the 2012 flowering
Slide show of the 2008 flowering

Native to the lowland rainforests of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, this endangered species has flowered only infrequently in cultivation in the U.S. One of the largest blooms in the plant kingdom, it is also one of the most malodorous.

The plant was first discovered in Sumatra in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari. He sent seeds to the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew where it first bloomed in 1889. It is in the same plant family as the familiar New England native, Jack-in-the Pulpit.

For many years the plant produces only a single, highly dissected leaf, up to 12 feet high. During this stage of the plant’s life it is building up a large underground storage organ, called a corm, that can eventually weigh up to 150 pounds, requiring two people to lift and move it. Once the corm reaches a certain critical size, it may send up a single flower. Our corm gained some weight, going from 40 lbs to over 50 now.

These are probably the most spectacular flowers in the plant kingdom. The inflorescence (flowering stalk) of this species is one of the largest. The size of the corm determines the flower size. 100 pound corms have been known to produce flower stalks up to 9 feet tall. From a pleated skirt of scarlet rises a towering yellow spadix (the spike that holds all the individual flowers). The bloom is very short lived and it is not easy to predict when the flower will be fully open.

Contributing to this flower’s enigmatic and exotic allure is the fact that it is one of the worst smelling flowers on earth. The overpowering aroma of rotten flesh attracts carrion beetles, who serve as its pollinators.

August 3, 2005
August 8, 2005
Our plant was raised from seed collected by the late Dr. James Symon, a physician who became one of the world experts on Amorphophallus. He collected seed in an abandoned rubber plantation in the town of Aeksah, in Sumatra, and this seed was distributed to universities and botanical institutions. Many recent flowerings of Amorphophallus in captivity trace back to Dr. Symon. In March of 1995 some of this seed was donated to the conservatories at the University of Connecticut. Clinton Morse, the manager of these conservatories, was successful in germinating and growing this precious seed and in 2002 he donated a corm to the Smith Botanic Garden, joining two others we had acquired.

August 9, 2005
August 10, 2005
August 21, 2005
image from Curtis' Botanical Magazine, 1891

 © 2012 The Botanic Garden of Smith College
Smith College