Archives For bloom

Alice’s Big Bloom Day

Our second titan; our first bloom

Tim Pollak —  October 9, 2015 — 2 Comments

So many of you corpse flower fans had questions about Alice’s bloom time and scent that I thought I’d give you a timeline and extra details about Alice’s big night and the day that followed.

Over the course of 2 days, over 13,700 people came to see Alice the Amorphophallus; by the end of the weekend 20,000 people saw the bloom.

PHOTO: Alice the Amorphophallus hits the top of the "trending" charts on September 29.

Loving the “buzz”! Did we surpass caffeine in popularity this evening? A short while after this screenshot was taken, we did.

What a day, and what a week! Alice the Amorphophallus took us all by surprise by beginning her bloom cycle late on Monday, September 28. We’d been expecting her to bloom around October 1, and had been watching for the telltale clues, just as we had with Spike in August. Alice’s two outer bracts had fallen away on the weekend, but she continued to grow.

Pampered like a movie star and protected from direct sunlight this time of year with a beach umbrella, she enjoyed a cozy, humid greenhouse. We watered frequently and monitored Alice’s internal temperature, checking several times each day with the use of a new, forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera—a thermographic camera that senses infrared radiation—since the heating of the spadix (the tall spike in the middle) over 90 degrees Fahrenheit is a sure sign that bloom has started.

Our precocious plant, however, decided to begin opening late at night! Around 11 p.m. Monday evening, it was evident that the spathe was pulling away from the spadix, and by 2:30 a.m., there was a noticeable smell—from outside the greenhouse. Alice was blooming.

PHOTO: Alice the Amorphophallus in full bloom, around 8 a.m. on September 29, 2015.

Alice the Amorphophallus in full bloom, around 8 a.m. on September 29, 2015.

PHOTO: A thermographic image of Alice in bloom shows the spadix heating up.

A thermographic image of Alice in bloom shows the spadix heating up.

Alice’s Flowering Timeline

PHOTO: Alice's spathe opened late at night.

Monday, September 28, 11 p.m. — The spathe (a frilly modified leaf) begins to pull away from the tall spadix (flower spike); Alice’s internal temperature begins to increase to help volatize the odor to attract pollinators.

PHOTO: Early morning visitors were not overly fond of the smell.

Monday – Tuesday, September 28 – 29, midnight to 10 a.m. — This is the peak of the flowering period, when the strongest odor is produced. The odor is noticeable when entering the Regenstein Center and Semitropical Greenhouse. The spathe is most open during this time (to about 75 percent). The spadix temperature is at its highest point of 95 degrees Fahrenheit internally; the female flowers are receptive to pollinating at this time.

PHOTO: The female Amorphophallus titanum flowers are ready for pollination.

Tuesday, September 29, 8:30 a.m. — Small windows are cut open at the base of the spathe to perform the “manual pollination process,” using the pollen from Spike and donated pollen from the Denver Botanic Gardens (from a titan arum named Stinky).

PHOTO: Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

Tuesday, September 29, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — The odor begins to dissipate; it is only noticeable within 10 feet of the plant.

Tuesday, September 29, 3 to 10 p.m. — The spathe begins to close up. The temperature of the male flowers increases to 87 degrees Fahrenheit to help ripen the male flowers to produce pollen (see photo above).

PHOTO: Long strings of pollen are collected from Alice the Amorphophallus.

Tuesday, September 29, 11 p.m. — Pollen is collected from the male flowers to save for future pollination of the other titan arums in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s collection and to be available to donate to other botanic gardens and universities, as requested.

PHOTO: By the next morning, the spathe on Alice the Amorphophallus was tightly closed.

Wednesday, September 30, 6 a.m. to noon — There is very little odor, except within 2 feet of the bloom; the spathe is about 25 percent open.

Thursday, October 1 — The spathe continues moving closer to the spadix; there is very little odor.

Friday, October 2 — The spadix begins to soften and collapse, and the spathe withers. The plant diverts energy to continue the pollination process, as well as the development of fruit and, eventually, seeds.

PHOTO: The titan arum spadix collapses after bloom.

Monday, October 5 — The spadix has collapsed and fructescence (the developing of fruit after pollination) begins.

Tuesday, October 6 —Alice moves back into the production greenhouses with the titan arum collection. Fruit will develop over the next several months.


PHOTO: Our Facebook comments were just as much fun as the greenhouse.

Visitors online enjoyed the scene as much as those here in the greenhouse.

Asked to share my most memorable moments, I answer that they naturally revolved around the kids. So many kids had come to see Alice, many awake way past their bedtimes! One special moment stands out:

A 12-year-old girl, who’d come to see Spike four or five times (plus watched live on the webcam), came up to me and said, “I just had to come to Alice too! I’m so excited! And I couldn’t wait to meet Titan Tim! Can I get my picture with you?” My heart grew ten times larger right then and there. She was practically jumping out of her shoes, even after waiting more than two hours in line. She told me she’d just ordered a voodoo lily online (it’s a close relative of Amorphophallus titanum) and said, “I can’t wait for it to bloom, to smell it!” I knew in that moment I was speaking to a potential future horticulturist or botanist.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

It is our pleasure to introduce another titan arum (in bloom!), which we have joyfully named “Alice the Amorphophallus.” Given the history below, it’s a name to remember! Alice will be on display in the Semitropical Greenhouse through Sunday, October 4—view what she looks like now on our webcam. 

PHOTO: Alice the Amorphophallus began blooming late at night on September 28, 2015.

Alice the Amorphophallus is caught blooming on webcam at 12:22:39 a.m. today—the Semitropical Greenhouse may smell a bit funky this morning.

When the Chicago Botanic Garden’s first budding Amorphophallus titanum presented itself, we called it “Spike,” since the flower structure, or inflorescence, is also known as a flower spike.

But the true name of Spike (and Alice) is a title that can make you blush, do a double take, or send you running to Google. How did Amorphophallus titanum end up with that name?

First, imagine a world where the same plant was called different names in different languages in every town in every valley in every country around the globe.

It existed before 1753, when the great botanist Carolus Linnaeus brought order to the chaos with his famous work titled Systema Naturae.

His simple system of binomial nomenclature allowed the world to speak the same language when it came to plants. It was no coincidence that the chosen tongue was Latin—the only language acceptable to all (at least in Europe), as its native speakers no longer existed.

ILLUSTRATION: Corpse plant in flower illustrated by M. Smith in Curtis's Botanical Magazine (1891).

Amorphophallus titanum (Becc.) Becc. ex Arcang.—titan arum from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 117 [ser. 3, vol. 47]: t. 7153 (1891) [M. Smith]

Linnaeus created the scientific shortcut of categorizing plants by their flowers and fruit (leaves had already been tried and abandoned). The elegant system caught on, and Linnaeus himself named some 9,000 plants before his death in 1778.

Some of those plant names continued a long-standing practice: using the nomenclature of the human body to label the botanical world.

The Greeks had done it: they chose the word Hepatica (hepar = liver in Greek), as the name for plants with tri-lobed leaves that look rather like a human liver.

The Romans coined the familiar name Pulmonaria (pulmo = lungs in Latin) for the perennial with spotted leaves that suggested a diseased lung.

Likewise, Linnaeus named a genus Podophyllum, because its leaf resembled a foot, and named another Digitalis—and what gardener hasn’t slipped a fingertip into the flower of a foxglove and admired how neatly it fits?

Fast forward 100 years.

A century after Linnaeus, during the great age of plant exploration in the mid-1800s, ships from many countries were crisscrossing the seas in search of riches—including rare and exotic plants.

ILLUSTRATION: Bud shown with male and female flowers of Amorphophallus titanum (Becc.) Becc. - Titan Arum from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 117 [ser. 3, vol. 47]: t. 7153 (1891) [M. Smith].

Bud shown with male and female flowers of Amorphophallus titanum (Becc.) Becc. ex Arcang.—titan arum from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 117 [ser. 3, vol. 47]: t. 7153 (1891) [M. Smith]

One ship brought Italian botanist and explorer Odoardo Beccari to Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1878. There he was rewarded with the sight of a “bunga bangkai” in full flower. Roughly translated, the name meant “corpse flower” or carrion flower (a name also given to the stinky tropical genus Rafflesia). Collecting seeds and a number of corms, Beccari sent his prizes back to his Italian patron. Sadly, the corms perished. But the seeds survived, and seedlings were grown from them—one of those was sent the following year to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (In 1889, the plant flowered, causing a sensation.)

Beccari’s notes from his trip were published in 1879 in Nuovo Giornale Botanico Italiano under the title “L’Amorphophallus titanum Beccari.” In naming the “new” species, Beccari simply added “giant” to the already-descriptive genus name, which translates as “misshapen phallus.”

Jump forward another century and, in 1995, Sir David Attenborough presented a BBC show called The Private Life of Plants. In the episode about flowers, he introduced A. titanum to viewers with a new “common” name: titan arum. Attenborough felt that the Latin name was inappropriate for television audiences.

Today, as titan cultivation succeeds at more and more botanic gardens and academic institutions, it has become popular to personify these giants of the plant world with nicknames. Some have been rooted in botany (“Carolus” at Cornell referenced Linnaeus himself), some steeped in mythology (“Hyperion,” the thinking man’s Greek titan, at Gustavus Adolphus University), some simply named with joy and humor (“Bob,” “Morticia,” “Tiny”).

PHOTO: Early morning visitors to #CBGAlice enjoy a snootful of stench from the blooming beauty.

Early morning visitors to #CBGAlice enjoy a snootful of stench from the blooming beauty.

PHOTO: The flashlight apps of several cell phones light this morning's pollination activities. Dr. Shannon Still wields a paintbrush laden with pollen, brushing it lightly on the female flowers on the spadix.

The flashlight apps of several cell phones light this morning’s pollination activities. Dr. Shannon Still wields a paintbrush laden with pollen, brushing it lightly on the female flowers on the spadix.

PHOTO: Phones and cameras are out in force today to capture the magical titan arum bloom. The square in the back of the flower is the replaced spathe where pollination occurred moments earlier.

Phones and cameras are out in force today to capture the magical titan arum bloom. The square in the back of the flower is the replaced spathe where pollination occurred moments earlier.

We hope you enjoy your visit with #CBGAlice! Please check our website at chicagobotanic.org/titan for info on the bloom. The live webcam will remain on through Sunday, October 4, 2015. 


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Boyce Tankersley, Director of Living Plant Documentation, takes us on a tour of what’s blooming in the display gardens on the first day of fall.

Sweeps of perennials on Evening Island, the cascading mums on the Visitor Center bridge, and masses of mums in the Crescent Garden, are found in the boundaries of our formal garden areas. Our show doesn’t end there, however — find gorgeous asters and sunflowers in the English Walled Garden, Japanese anemones and Endless Summer hydrangeas in the Waterfall Garden, mums mixed with later blooming annuals like zinnias and rudbeckia in the Sensory Garden, and an amazing array of colorful annuals in the Circle Garden.

We only visited six of the 25 display gardens, so come out to see them all this fall! Visit chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/ for more information on what’s in bloom.