Thursday, 12 June 2014

Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum)

Some years ago i was lucky enough to spend some time working at the Eden project, down in beautiful Cornwall. It was a fabulous experience that i can say truly changed my life, for many reasons, not just for the plants. 
Aside from the fact i was working with a great group of people, in the most amazing surroundings, I was lucky enough to be allowed to work in all areas, slipping from the awesome herbaceous borders, full of Agapanthus, to the Tropical biome, stuffed full of plants most people would have to cross the globe to see, never mind study up close from the deck of a cherry picker!
Whilst i was there the giant flower of the Titan arum was just starting to erupt, its heady perfume of rotting meat not quite ready to overpower unwary visitors!
I took this picture early one morning prior to the gates being opened to the crowds, an amazing opportunity to get an unobstructed view of this monster.

So why is this such an exciting plant?
Its perfume is almost guaranteed to turn the stomach of an unwary observer but its inflorescence lasts for only 48 hours!
Very little is known about this plant in comparison to your more common garden species purely because of the specialist conditions needed to grow it successfully.
Originally found in the rainforests of Western Sumatra, there are now two sites in the UK that are successfully growing and propagating these monsters that i know of, maybe there are more?
In the wild this plant is classified as vulnerable due to the large scale of destruction being wreaked in its native jungle habitat.
It can live for up to 50 years and during that time it may flower only 4 times, something which increases its vulnerability.
In the UK it is usually hand pollinated, ensuring a new generation but in the wild little is known of the exact methods and species the Amorphophallus utilises to achieve successful pollination and with its habitat coming under increased stress the risk of losing this amazing giant of the forest multiply's exponentially with every tree cut down.
Its enormous size alone makes it a head turner, reaching up to 2 meters tall and the tubers can weigh in at a massive 75Kgs!
That alone makes this one of the most exciting unusual plants ive ever had the honour of photographing, sadly though i missed the point it was in its full glory, returning just 2 weeks later to find this...
As you an see the humidity was affecting my camera, so sorry for the quality (or lack thereof) of the picture.
I was also fighting against the crowds this time, struggling to get close with unimpeded view was a challenge in itself but well worth it.
One day i would like to see this monster in the wild, to trek through the forests of Sumatra like the intrepid plant hunters of old. I just hope they still exist by the time i get round to it!

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