Is Spike Blooming Yet?

3 Ways to Tell

Tim Pollak —  August 11, 2015 — 15 Comments

Spike is about halfway up the expected height chart (we’re thinking 6 to 7 feet, ultimately), so the big question now is, “How do you know when it’s going to bloom?”

PHOTO: Taken yesterday (August 11, 2015), our titan arum reaches the "halfway" point in its growth chart.

Taken yesterday (August 11, 2015), our titan arum reaches the “halfway” point in its growth chart.

Titan arums don’t give up their secrets easily. Just as it’s difficult to distinguish a leaf bud from a flower bud (we talked about that in our last blog post), it’s hard to know when the bloom cycle has actually begun.

Once again, our titan-experienced friends at other botanic gardens and conservatories have offered up a few helpful hints.

PHOTO: Closeup of spathe loosening from spadix of Amorphophallus titanum at the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens 2 days before opening (in 2008).

A close-up shows the spathe loosening from spadix of Amorphophallus titanum at the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden two days before opening (in 2008).

  1. Growth slows. Spike is powering up 4 to 6 inches per day. As a titan gets ready to open, that growth rate slows noticeably. It’s a rather obvious clue, but by the time the plant is 6 or 7 feet tall, you start to marvel at the overall size and forget about incremental daily growth. We’re posting our measurements daily here, so heads up when you notice the numbers getting smaller.
  2. Bracts fall. What? Look down at the base of the spathe. Two modified leaves called bracts encircle the spathe. As Spike gets taller, these protective bracts shrivel and dry up. About a day before full bloom, they fall off—first one, then the other. That’s a sure sign that bloom is about to happen.
  3. The spathe loosens. Tightly wound around the towering spadix as it shoots up, the frilly leaf called a spathe starts to loosen its grip as bloom time nears, revealing the crazy-beautiful maroon color inside.

So those are the clues we’re watching for—now you can watch for them, too! How long will it be before the big night? I’ll keep you posted…


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Prepare for “Wow!”

Tim Pollak —  August 7, 2015 — 2 Comments

Yesterday we moved our first titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), “Spike,” to the Semitropical Greenhouse. Now we are all watching and waiting for Spike to bloom—a dream of the Chicago Botanic Garden for 12 years! Finally, in the next ten days or so, we’ll see the fruit of our labor in all of its stinky glory.

PHOTO: Meet Spike, our titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

Meet Spike, our titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum). We expect great things from this magnificent plant.

What’s next, and when?

Over the next several days, Spike will grow taller—some days, a barely noticeable inch, and other days, a remarkable 4 or 5 inches. Below the soil is a giant corm, which is a type of underground tuber or bulb (some can weight up to 200 pounds). The titan arum bloom has previously gone through three to ten annual cycles of emerging as a leafy stalk, dying back, and sending that energy back into the corm, which began as a germinated seed about the size of a quarter. 

Big bloom!

While it will look like Spike is a 6- to 8-foot-tall flower, what you will see is actually a tall spadix (flower structure) wrapped by a spathe (a frilly modified leaf). Over the next week, the spadix will emerge out of the top of the bud and continue to grow taller, until it’s time for the bloom. For a single day, the spathe will unwrap and open to a dark, velvety red “bloom,” closing again roughly 24 hours later. 

Big stench. No, really.

Inside the tightly wrapped spathe, the plant uses stored energy from the corm to heat up internally to 90+ degrees Fahrenheit. As the spathe opens, the 750 small female flowers ringing the bottom of the spadix release scent molecules that are volatilized (vaporized) by the heat, creating a blast of scent so powerful that it can travel an acre (or the distance between individual plants in their native Sumatran rain forests). The scent is a calling card for pollinators. 

PHOTO: The spathe of the Amorphophallus titanum unwraps from the spadix at bloom time.

The spathe unwraps from the spadix at bloom time. Photo by Elke Wetzig (elya) (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What does Spike smell like? Chemically, the scent is a combination of dimethyl trisulfide, isovaleric acid, dimethyl disulfide, and trimethylamine—or, as our friends at Huntington Botanic Gardens described it, “a combination of limburger cheese, garlic, rotting fish, and smelly feet.”

The titan arum will be worth the wait! (Follow our #CBGSpike)

This is yet another “Wow!” produced by our production greenhouse staff for our visitors to rave about. 

Other Chicago Botanic Garden “Wows”:

  • More than 180,000 colorful and bountiful annuals and vegetables produced for displays throughout the Garden
  • The stunning and dramatic cascading chrysanthemums seen atop the bridge at the Visitor Center each fall, and the nearly 100 or so chrysanthemum “balls” we create every year for display in the Esplanade
  • The 10-foot-tall floral pyramids and blooming obelisks created to enhance seasonal displays

But Spike is the most distinguished of them all.

When Spike is ready to bloom, the Chicago Botanic Garden will stay open until 2 a.m., so everyone will have a chance to take in the odor and the remarkable color of the world’s largest unbranched inflorescence—a “Wow!” indeed.ILLUSTRATION: Blooming corpse flower.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

What’s that smell?

Tim Pollak —  August 6, 2015 — 2 Comments

In gardening, as in life, patience is a virtue. Twelve years ago, the Garden embarked on a mission to bring a rock star of the plant world to the Chicago Botanic Garden. The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower, is the largest flowering structure in the world. When it blooms, it puts on a show like no other. 

Huge. Rotten. Rare. Watch our video on YouTube of Spike moving to his display location.

Why the big stink? During the peak of its bloom, which could happen in the next two weeks, the titan arum will emit a foul odor that pollinators can detect from about an acre away. Who would want to miss that?

PHOTO: Checking in on the progress of the titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum).

Checking in on the progress of the titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

Native to the rainforests of western Sumatra, Indonesia, the titan arum is distinguished by its large size, odd shape, and terrible stench (hence its common name, corpse flower). Plants bloom for a single day every seven to ten years, and it is nearly impossible to predict the day it will be at the peak of bloom. When those magical hours finally occur, the bloom unfurls into a dramatic, blood red “flower” with a nauseating stench that can be detected up to an acre away. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

We have been cultivating nine of these mysterious plants behind the scenes in the production greenhouses, watching them grow foliage each year, and guessing what a flower might look like as it emerges.

Today we are so excited to be moving Spike to the Semitropical Greenhouse in the Regenstein Center. (We have named our titan arum Spike because when you grow a plant for 12 years, you start to think of it as a child.) Spike is growing several inches every day. We are so proud of Spike and are also thrilled he is the first titan arum to bloom in the Chicago area.

Come welcome Spike, and join the countdown to the big bloom! If you do, let us know what you think in comments here, via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Tumblr. Use the hashtag #CBGSpike and our handle @chicagobotanic


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

July 29, exactly one week ago, was definitely the most exciting day for me at the Butterflies & Blooms exhibit this year! 

PHOTO: Dorsal view of the enormous African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina).

Dorsal view of the enormous African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina)
Photo by Judy Kohn.

On July 3, we received what looked like “naked” pupae. These were the pupae of the bull’s eye silk moth, or African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina). Aside from a very slight wiggling the first day or two, the pupae just sat there in their box. Then, on Wednesday morning, I checked on them and noticed one of the pupae looked like it was broken open like an empty eggshell…but I couldn’t find a moth or anything else—until I looked up and saw it hanging in the top corner of the display! It was fabulous. I literally ran out to the volunteers to tell them the good news! (They ask, “Are there any new moths?” on a daily basis, and I usually have to say no.) I brought it out and placed it in the safest place I could think of, while still being easily visible to guests. I personally didn’t take a photo, but all the volunteers did—so that’s what you see here. It’s been a dramatic week!

PHOTO: Ventral view of the Gonimbrasia zambesina.

Ventral view of the Gonimbrasia zambesina
Photo by Judy Kohn.

As far as the native butterflies and moths in our exhibition right now, we received 30 white peacocks, 12 buckeyes, and 8 gulf frits. I’ve never seen a gulf frit, so I’m looking forward to those pupae hatching. They came in on July 28, so I expect them to emerge any time now. (The smaller butterflies seem to emerge the fastest.)

PHOTO: Patrick Sbordone talks butterflies with a group of younger visitors.

Come on by and ask me questions!
Photo by Judy Kohn.

Hope you can visit often—we have new species of butterflies hatching all the time! Check out our species list.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Beer From Here

Taste the seasons with our new beer, Change of Saisons

Karen Z. —  July 31, 2015 — Leave a comment

Begyle Brewing, Chef Cleetus Friedman and the Garden are launching a series of seasonal, small-batch saisons—Change of Saisons. The beer captures the best flavors of the season.

Chef Cleetus Friedman has had a long relationship with the Chicago Botanic Garden. You may know him as the executive chef of Fountainhead, the Bar on Buena, and the Northman, soon to open in Chicago. Perhaps you have enjoyed his appearances at the Garden Chef Series, where he teaches visitors to prepare local, seasonal recipes at the open-air amphitheater of the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. If you are lucky, you have experienced one of our Farm Dinners over the past six years, where Chef Friedman dreams up memorable meals with local food and drink for guests to enjoy in a garden setting. 

And now, that relationship has grown into something even more mouth-watering… 

PHOTO: Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead / The Bar on Buena.

Chef Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead and the Bar on Buena!

Together with Begyle Brewing, a community-supported brewery in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago, Chef Friedman and the Garden are launching a series of seasonal, small-batch saisons—Change of Saisons. The beer will capture the best flavors of the season at the Garden, beginning with a strawberry rhubarb saison, sourced this spring. The team worked fast to bring this brew right back to the Garden for visitors to enjoy. The small batch of strawberry rhubarb saison will be followed by a berry-based saison and each will be available for only a limited time. 

“It’s a versatile beer for everyone coming to the Garden,” said Chef Friedman. 

Beer Rhubarb and Laura

On May 21, Laura Erickson, market manager of Windy City Harvest, harvested rhubarb from the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Chef Friedman cooked it down to make a puree to use in the brew.

“Change of Saisons furthers our commitment to serve food and beverages that are sourced locally,” said Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development, “and you can’t get more local than our own backyard.”

What is a Saison?—The Garden’s new beer is a saison, a lighter type of ale originating from a French-speaking region of Belgium. It typically contains fruit and spice notes. Farmers brewed this ale during the cooler months and stored it until the following summer, where it was given to seasonal workers, or “saisonniers.”

Change of Saisons is available on tap (while supplies last) at the Garden Grille on the Garden View Café deck. You may also sip saison at Autumn Brews on Thursday, October 8, 2015. 

 

 


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org