Scientific name: Amorphophallus titanum
Common names: corpse flower, titan arum
Nativity: Sumatra, Indonesia
Location: McMillan Greenhouse, UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens
Date: November 21, 2015
Notes: While it is usually the rare appearance of the titan arum inflorescence that gets attention—and it is a huge and particularly beautiful inflorescence—the leaf stalk which arises after the bloom is nearly as remarkable. The size would make you believe it is woody like a tree trunk, but that splotchy “trunk” is actually the petiole of a single, compound leaf.
In the picture above, the titan arum leaf is at the very center of the photo, and just to the right of it, another with fruiting spadix. Here they are a little closer up.
Eventually, the impressive leaf will die back and the corm will rest for a while before sending up another leaf. Once every several years, after a period of dormancy, the dramatic inflorescence will form instead.
If the scientific name of the plant gives you a hint to the shape of the inflorescence, the common name clues you in to the scent – horrible! But it does attract the right pollinators by smelling like dead meat. Fortunately, the stench is limited to the short period of time the plant is fertile.
After pollination (typically by hand in cultivation), red-orange fruits form, each containing a seed or two. In their native habitat these seeds would be dispersed by rhinoceros hornbills, but in cultivation they will depend on humans to plant them. With some luck they will form a new corm which will eventually produce flowers.
The titan arum is poisonous to humans (is there any chance you would sample one?), but there is an interesting protein in them, one which is also found in human parasites. Hope is that studying its structure will yield information that might help fight African sleeping sickness and other illnesses caused by parasites. (Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/cornwall/7183556.stm)