On June 15, 2017, the enormous 6-foot bloom of Terra the Titan opened and the Potted Plants Gallery was filled with a fantastically funky fragrance. A portion of the bloom is still on display. The spathe and top section of the spadix have been removed. The ovaries from hundreds of female flowers line the lower portion of the spadix and are still visible.
What makes the titan arum so special?
The titan arum is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world – typically 6-8 feet tall. It emits a foul odor of rotting animal flesh, thus the common name of corpse flower. The 10 and 15-foot leaves in the same pot as Terra have shaded a portion of the Potted Plants Gallery for the last year.
Why does the bloom stink?
The scent is a deception device that tricks pollinators into thinking the plant is rotting organic matter. These pollinators – carrion beetles and flies – lay eggs on decaying animals so their larva can feast when they hatch. The bloom heats up on the first evening to further disperse the odor.
Is Terra a flower?
The titan arum is not the largest flower in the world – that title goes to the Rafflesia arnoldii. The titan arum is the largest unbranched inflorescence, which is a structure composed of many individual flowers. Hundreds of small flowers line the base of the spadix and are protected by a ruffled modified leaf called a spathe. Female flowers open a day before the male flowers, which is how the plant avoids self-pollination. Scarlet fruits develop from the pollinated female flowers. The fruits attract birds that eat them and disperse the seeds.
What is the lifecycle of the titan arum?
The seed grows into a small leaf with an underground tuber, similar to a potato. After a year, the leaf dies back and the plant goes into dormancy for months. The plant goes through years of these dormancy and leaf cycles. Meanwhile, sugars made in the leaf are transported back to the tuber, which continues to grow larger. Finally, 7-10 years later, the plant has stored enough energy to bloom. The inflorescence takes about a month to mature and is only open and pungent for two days before the spadix withers and collapses. Usually, only one structure – either a leaf or a flower – emerges from a tuber during each cycle.
Where is the titan arum native to?
It grows on steep hillsides in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. The Indonesian name for titan arum is bunga bangkai, which translates to “corpse flower” in English. Already endangered in the wild, the titan arum native habitats are rapidly being destroyed primarily due to deforestation for agricultural use to feed a growing population.
Where did the Conservatory’s plant come from?
The 9 year old plant was donated in 2014 by a collector in San Francisco when the leaves were 7 feet tall. In his email offering the Conservatory the plant, the collector noted he was donating it because “it has outgrown the space in my bathroom”. At that time, Terra was 6 years old. The Conservatory received three tubers from the collector and all are in the same pot. Two are in leaf form and the third (Terra) is blooming. The collector acquired them from the garden shop at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. They were propagated from that Garden’s plants, named Trudy and Titania.
How was Terra named?
The first letter was selected as an homage to the parent plants, Trudy and Titania. The Latin word, Terra translates to multiple English words: “earth, ground, and soil”. In Roman mythology, the goddess Terra or “Mother Earth” is associated with agricultural abundance.