University Communications 
News at UW-Madison 


*New titan arum blossom may be on a record pace *
(Posted: 6/1/2005)

The growers of a rare flower, the giant but malodorous titan arum or
"corpse flower," say a large plant that blossomed four years ago is
about to blossom again, and may be on a record-setting pace for
cultivated titan arums.

"It's going to be big," says Mohammad Fayyaz, the director of the Botany
Garden  and Greenhouses
. "Already, it is almost 6-feet

Four years ago, Fayyaz and his colleagues were witness to a huge titan
arum blossom that grew in the university's Botany Greenhouse to a size
of 8.5 feet, just 3.5 inches shy of the then-world record set in 1932.
The current world record, set in 2003 at the Bonn Botanic Garden in
Germany, stands just an inch short of nine feet.

Although there is no way of predicting how big the latest corpse flower
blossom will be, Fayyaz says the plant has a chance to make a run at the
world record.

The 2001 bloom  at UW-Madison
remains the largest such bloom ever in the United States and is the very
same flower that, sometime within the next week or so, will unfurl its
skirt-like green and purple spathe and release its trademark ripe
carrion odor.

Although the big flowers are noted for being rare and, supposedly,
difficult to cultivate, this latest blossom is the fourth corpse flower
to bloom in the UW-Madison Botany Greenhouse in the past five years. To
date, an estimated 64 cultivated titan arum blossoms have occurred since
1889 when the first such bloom caused a sensation at the Royal Botanical
Gardens at Kew, England.

Four years ago, when the flower first bloomed at UW-Madison, the
phenomenon attracted thousands of curious visitors, many from out of
state, and caused the university's Web server to crash as many thousands
more from around the world sought live Web cam images of the flower.

In nature, the corpse flower grows only in the equatorial rain forests
of Sumatra, Indonesia. In addition to its size and beauty, the plant is
noted mostly for the powerful stench of its blossoms, a trait designed
to attract the carrion beetles, flies and sweat bees that pollinate it.

The plant grows from a tuber that can weigh as much as 170 pounds. Its
blossom lasts only a few days before the spadix, the tall fleshy central
column of the flower, collapses under its own weight.

In the strict botanical sense, the large blossom is not a true flower,
but an inflorescence, or collection of flowers, which emerges after a
long dormant period and grow up to six inches a day over a period of up
to twelve weeks. As the cream-colored spike reaches maturity, the spathe
opens to form a vast, ribbed, frilly-edged trumpet, greenish on the
outside but deep maroon within.

To science, the plant is known as Amorphophallus titanum. It is a member
of the same family of plants that includes the familiar calla lily and
philodendron. They may live to be 40 years old and may bloom only two or
three times.

The titan arum's characteristic road kill odor occurs when the plant's
pollen is receptive. The spadix heats up from within and gives off a
stench that has been likened to rotting fish. The smell attracts
pollinators from great distances.

The moment the blossom unfurls can't be predicted, says Fayyaz, but it
is expected to open sometime within the next 10 days.

To accommodate the curious, the UW-Madison Botany Greenhouse will be
open to the public beginning Thursday, June 2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The
Greenhouse will not be open this weekend (June 4 and 5). But when the
plant blossoms, in all probability next week, hours will be extended.

Photo of the titan arum that bloomed in 2002

The titan arum that bloomed in June 2001 -- at a height of eight feet,
five inches -- is about to blossom again. (Photo: Michael Forster
Rothbart )

*Volunteers needed*
The staff of the Botany Garden and Greenhouse needs volunteers to help
facilitate public access to the latest titan arum blossom. Help is
needed to guide and assist visitors, help with the sale of corpse flower
memorabilia, and to augment the small staff of the Greenhouse. Anyone
interested in contributing his or her time to help the public view and
experience a rare wonder of nature can sign up by e-mail at Name, email, and phone number would be appreciated.