Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Corpse or Carrion Flower Blooms at Miami University

They rarely bloom. Perhaps no more than two hundred of these Corpse or Carrion Flowers have ever bloomed under cultivation. In addition, they stink.
 Two strikes. But that's also what attracts attention, whether you be a fly or a beetle, attracted to the scent of rotting flesh or whether you be human, attracted to the novelty. Since Miami University aimed a webcam at their ready-to-bloom Amorphophallus titanum about a week ago, over 800,000 accesses have been recorded.
 It was predicted to bloom on April 3 but the date passed quietly. The following day they thought it would bloom by April 5. It didn't. Then late yesterday, a hand-written sign was posted near the plant. It said simply, "It is now BLOOMING!". Slowly the gray-green petals began to drop showing off their royal purple interior.

 The plant is on public display at the Belk Greenhouse on the Miami University campus. I visited on the morning on April 10 and took these pictures.

This Carrion Flower - or Titan Arum - began as a seed in 2001. It was collected from Sumatra, where the plant is native, and given to Miami alumnae, Joan McElfresh Leonard ('86), who currently runs The Ohio State University Biological Greenhouse. That's where the plant grew until this spring when it was presented to Jack Keegan, greenhouse manager and instructor of botany at Miami University.

 Though the flower - a giant spathe (single petal-like structure) which is the "largest inflorescence in the world" - just opened yesterday, the edges are already beginning to dry. Still, the contrasting color of the greenish exterior and the royal purple inside is striking.

The plant goes through a complex life cycle. From seed it produces a single leaf. After 9-10 months, the leaf dies back for about four months. Then it sends up an even larger leaf. Eventually the plant can produce a single leaf as much as 20 feet high and 16 feet across.
 There are four more of the plants in various stages of maturity in the Belk Greenhouse. One tall plant looks like a small tree with spotted bark.

 The interior of the flower is ribbed but otherwise simple. The colors remind me of rhubarb.

 The exterior is equally convoluted but seems a fairly simple structure.

 Here's a close-up view of the center structure, the Spadix. This part of the flower contains the male and female parts. It is down inside the flower where the rotten smell originates. I expected this plant to be overwhelming but it was not. I had to tilt my nose inside to detect the rotten scent.

This specimen is small compared to the capability of the plant. The corm (the part of the plant that lives in the soil) can weigh 200 pounds. The largest flower ever recorded was over ten feet tall.

The flower will quickly fade now - they seldom last more than three days - so I feel good that I hurried down the morning after it opened.

 This is a side view of the Belk Greenhouse, attached to Boyd Hall, in the southern reaches of the Miami campus. With road construction, narrow one-way roads and plenty of students between classes, travel was a challenge.

 Here's a close-up of the Spadix. All of the pictures can be clicked for higher-resolution versions. You can examine the structure much more closely.
 I'll post some webcam images and link to a Miami-produced time lapse soon.

a. Click here for a video of the bloom and subsequent closing of the flower. Credit: Lawrence Downes. Time lapse covers April 8 through April 11, 2013.
b. Miami's webcam is (was?) located at this link.
c. Two webcam images (and only two) show my visit to the Belk Greenhouse:

April 10, 2013 - 9:56 a.m.
I'm the gray-haired man in the foreground left.

April 10, 2013 - 9:58 a.m.
I'm in the far distance talking with a female Miami botany student (off camera to the right)

No comments:

Post a Comment