What a wonderful day for Science! Today I was introduced to the exotic and wonderful plant- Amorphophallus titanum (or Amorpho- misshapened, phallus- phallus/penis, titanum- giant). Native to the rainforests of Sumatra and Indonesia, this behemoth can stand erect at a staggering height of 20 feet and even reach a diameter of five feet. Although the ‘Titania’ I saw today at the University of Illinois’ Plant Biology Greenhouse was close to four feet tall, its most distinctive feature was certainly present in the room: its smell.
Despite the flower’s formal, Linnaean name (Amorphophallus titanum) , a common name used to distinguish this plant is the The Corpse Flower. The flower is characteristic for smelling like rotting meat, enough to send Ron Jeremy out of the tropical rainforests. Using two sulphur compounds, this giant flower attracts carrion flies and flesh-eating beetles as a means for pollination. As many chemists and biologist will know, sulfur-containing compounds are suprisingly heavy, which restrict this odor from becoming airbourne.
Despite this shortcoming, the Corpse Flower is equipped with two remarkable features to attract its strange pollinators. (1) By retaining the compounds in a chamber, the flower heats these heavy compounds up to 100 degrees, which when in bloom, the flower will render the sulphur compounds volatile. (2) The phallus (or more formally known by Botanists as the spadix) noted at the center of the flower diffuses the acrid and distasteful compounds throughout the rainforest. This mechansm is similar to the reed diffusers one would find at Bed Bath and Beyond.
What a remarkable plant!