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now blooming in berkeley

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Titan arum, or Amorphophallus titanum (from Ancient Greek amorphos, “without form, misshapen” + phallos, “penis”, and titan, “giant”), also known as “the corpse flower,” because it smells like rotting flesh.  Once the official flower of the Bronx, the titan arum was replaced by the day lily in 2000.

From the Chron:

Only a few hundred Titan arum exist, mostly in botanical gardens. UC Berkeley’s garden has a dozen of the plants, all from the same seeds collected in 1995 in Sumatra. The last one bloomed in 2009.

Twelve days ago garden director Paul Licht suspected he might have another bloom approaching when the plant, dubbed Maladora, began to swell around its base.

Then at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Maladora slowly began unfurling her hideous rotting-meat-scented petals.

By Wednesday morning, busloads of thrill-seekers were gathering in Maladora’s greenhouse. The frilly skirt of the flower was 34 inches wide and its central phallus was nearly four feet tall.

“It’s very masculine and very feminine at the same time,” said visitor Yoni Mayeri of Orinda. “I love the texture and the colors, the burgundy, chartreuse, the faint orange. It definitely smells, but I thought it was going to be worse.”

Titan arum isn’t pollinated like other plants – by attracting bees with bright, sweet-smelling flowers. Instead, Titan arum goes after flies.

Flies are attracted to the spoiled flesh odor and creep around the innards of the flower collecting the sticky, snot-like pollen.

Hopefully, those same flies will find another blooming Titan arum and the putrid cycle can begin anew.

“The worst of the smell is at night. It’s a very private, intimate moment for the plant,” said Licht.

After the plant is pollinated, the great display fades very quickly. The phallus goes limp, the flower petals droop and within a day or so the whole production all ends up in the compost heap. What’s left – a hulking tuber under the dirt – will lie dormant for a few months then sprout a new leaf or two.

For those who’d like to smell the corpse stench in the comfort of their own homes, the botanical garden sells saplings for $35 to $50. Only a few have sold.

“I think people are afraid of them,” Licht said.

Not Cromp, though. He has one in his bathroom.

“I love the symmetry, the colors,” he said. “A normal person would describe the color as rotting liver, but to me it’s iridescent mauve.”



Written by rarface

July 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Randoms

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