The botany department at Cornell University is enjoying a day in the sun while science and aesthetics combine. They acquired the seeds of a Titan Arum in 2002 and have been growing the plant ever since. The plant only grows in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and is rare in culvtivation as well. Cornell’s plant has been nurtured by grad students for the last decade and is finally flowering for the first time right now. Since the plant is so rare Cornell has put up a streaming web cam and opened the green house to the public.
I’ve been reading up on the Titan Arum since I saw the story this morning. The plant is remarkable for a couple of reasons beyond simply being rare. It’s commonly known as the Corpse Plant because when it blooms a deep purple color it also smells like rotting meat. In a really odd evolutionary twist, the purple color and the rotten stench are meant to attract carrion flies to pollinate the flowers. Cultivated Corpse Plants take 7 to 10 years to bloom and the bloom lasts for two days. After the first bloom they then bloom once every few years after. An early specimen cultivated in England bloomed in 1889 and went dormant until finally coming to life in 1926.
The size is what impresses me about the most, at least until I have opportunity to smell one in bloom. They group as tall as 3 meters (10 ft for you Yanks) and they develop a tuber root that comes in at 200 lbs. The folks at Cornell has posted a growth chart for their bloom that’s pretty amazing. They started at 38 inches on March 4 and the most recent measurement was 66.5 inches on March 18. That’s a growth of over two feet in just two weeks. The Cornell plant flowered some time on Sunday and according to a local paper the university is trying to pollinate it with pollen frozen in 2010 when a plant at Binghamton University bloomed.
This event is going to make some lucky grad students famous. The researchers at Cornell are taking the most advantage of the rare blooming that they can. They’re sampling the odor so they can study it, and on their website you can see thermal imaging of the plant (which apparently uses an internal heat of 96.8 F to disperse the odor) and some endoscopic photography of the inside taken before it bloomed. (The endoscopic shots could be someone’s colon for all I can tell, but it’s still pretty cool.) Even at 6:30 AM when I first looked at the webcam there were fascinated grad students and bystanders looking at it. I checked in again before posting this, as you can see from this screenshot, it was getting pretty busy in the green house.
Apparently the first known flowering in the US was at the New York Botanical Garden in 1937 and the Corpse Flower was the official flower of the Bronx from 1939 until 2000. There’s got to be some good jokes there, but I’ll leave that to my friends in New York.
Check out the webcam and basic info. If you’re interested enough, I recommend clicking through to the blog after you’ve looked at the webcam. The blog has some interesting info on the researchers attempts to pollinate the plant.