For the last one week, hundreds of tourists are queuing up at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary at Alattil, near Periya, in north Wayanad of Kerala in India, just to get a glimpse of the Amorphophallus titanum or the corpse flower, which is in full bloom right now. It’s an incredibly rare event that had grown from a seed planted about nine years ago.
The plant was first discovered in Indonesia’s Sumatra region in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccar. The local people call it “bunga bangkai” or corpse flower because of the smell. The corpse flower, like its name suggests, emits an extremely foul odour, akin to the smell of rotting flesh. It survives only for 48 hours before it collapses in on itself.
The Sanctuary has been growing the Corpse Flower, or Amorphophallus Titanum or Titan arum, the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, for nine years.
Suma Keloth, conservationist of the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary says that the corpse flower cannot self-pollinate. The stench it emits attracts sweat bees and carrion beetles that live on animal carcasses for pollination.
Here’s a time lapse video by the Chicago Botanic Garden that follows the flower from germination to full bloom.
Alice, the Amorphapallus Titanum or corpse flower bloom in this captivating and astonishing time-lapse video. The Chicago Botanic Garden’s rare titan arum bloomed and opened over an exciting 24 hour period after growing for more than 11 years. Alice bloomed in September 2015 and its fruit is on display January 2016.
Titan Arum Facts
The scientific name of the corpse flower is Amorphophallus titanium, originating from the Latin words amorphos (without form, misshapen), phallos (penis) and titanum (giant).
Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden says that there is a reason behind the plant’s strong odor. The smell, color and even temperature of corpse flowers are meant to attract pollinators. He further explains that carnivorous insects like dung beetles and flesh flies are the primary pollination agents of this type of flower. These insects typically devour dead flesh. The smell and the dark burgundy color of the corpse flower are meant to imitate a dead animal to attract these insects.
Corpse flowers are also able to warm up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 Celsius) to further fool the insects. The insects think the flower may be food, fly inside to realize there is nothing to eat, and fly off with pollen on their legs. This process ensures the ongoing pollination of the species. Once the flower has bloomed and pollination is complete, the flower collapses.
Pollak wrote on the Chicago Botanic Garden’s blog that analyses show that chemically the stench consists of:
- dimethyl trisulfide (also emitted by cooked onions and limburger cheese)
- dimethyl disulfide (which has an odor like garlic)
- trimethylamine (found in rotting fish or ammonia)
- isovaleric acid (which also causes sweaty socks to stink)
- benzyl alcohol (a sweet floral scent found in jasmine and hyacinth)
- phenol (sweet and medicinal, as in Chloraseptic throat spray)
- indole (like mothballs)
The plant itself grows to around ten to fifteen feet (3 to 4.6 meters). The plants typically can grow to a massive eight feet (2.4 m) tall and the leaves can be as big as thirteen feet (4 m) wide. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest bloom was a corpse flower that measured 10 feet 2.25 inches (3.1 m) tall. It bloomed on June 18, 2010, at Winnipesaukee Orchids in Gilford, New Hampshire.
The corpse plant is becoming increasingly rare in its native home as a result of deforestation, pollution, farming and other factors. Yet a corpse flower in bloom is a rare phenomenon, both in the wild and in the horticultural world.
The corpse flower has been in news for its recent blooms in Chicago in April 2016, UK in May 2016 and Australia in December 2015.