However the impact of your average heatwave in Adelaide is nothing compared to being in close proximity to the Sumatran Corpse Flower. This unusual and hard to find plant originated in the Sumatran rainforest region of Indonesia, but has since spread to botanical gardens around the world. The Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens counts itself as one of the lucky few in Australia to own one.
The botanical name for the Corpse Flower is Amorphophallus Titanum or Titan Arum. The Latin name translates roughly to "misshapen giant penis", but that is not the worst or most repulsive aspect of the plant. As you may have guessed, the Corpse Flower smells rather like a rotting corpse.
Amorphophallus Titanum US Botanic Gardens (Image: Wikipedia)
As the Titan Arum flower opens it releases powerful odours to attract pollinating insects which feed on dead animals or lay their eggs in rotting meat. The smell gets progressively worse as darkness approaches, then tapers off towards morning. The smell has been described as being like a combination of Limburger cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks, phenol antiseptic, and mothballs.
Though the Corpse Plant isn't currently endangered, it is becoming increasingly rare in its native Sumatran home as a result of deforestation.
Two Titan Arum in Sumatra 1900-1940 (Image:Tropenmuseum Collection)
Fortunately for anyone nearby, the Titan Arum plant flowers only infrequently in the wild and even more rarely when cultivated. The first recorded flowering in Botanical Gardens was at Kew in the United Kingdom in 1889, and more than one hundred blooms have been seen there since. It takes about seven years to mature and flower in cultivation, and staff at the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens were very excited when a Titan Arum in their gardens flowered in December.
The Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens acquired a Amorphophallus Titanum in 2006 and as it matures it grows to three metres tall. Its unique flower is a giant yellow phallic spike surrounded by a purple spathe, which has become a beacon for plant lovers around the world. Once the spathe starts growing vigorously, it usually takes only about a week before the Corpse Flower blooms for about 48 hours.
This was thought to be the first time a Corpse Flower has bloomed in South Australia, and I asked at the time " who knows when the next will take place?". Clearly I didn't - but now I can reveal that a second corpse flower will soon flower in the Adelaide Bicentennial Conservatory. While it is hard to predict the actual day of flowering, it's expected to be quite soon.
If you want to experience the beauty - and the bouquet - follow the Adelaide Botanic Gardens Facebook page to get frequent updates on this horribly beautiful flowering plant. The Titan Arum plant can be viewed free of charge from a distance by the public in the Bicentennial Conservatory now, but once it flowers queues are likely to be long.
See the Corpse Flower Free at the Bicentennial Conservatory (Image: Botanic Gardens)
Dave's comments on Amorphophallus were good, but even more exciting is the fact that the nursery staff at MLBG have discovered a propagating technique to reduce the time taken for plants to come into flower and without using seed! Is it a world first? Dr Brian Morley