Archives For titan arum

Sunshine is the latest corpse flower at the Chicago Botanic Garden to bloom.

A member of the Aroid plant family (Araceae) from Sumatra, it has a number of titan arum relatives at the Garden from around the world.

Sunshine the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in the Sensory Garden

Sunshine the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in the Sensory Garden

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) are the two most common Chicago natives in this family. Other relatives hail from continents, regions, countries, and islands. Taxa growing at the Garden have the following native ranges: North America, Northeastern United States and Canada, Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Russian Far East, Kamchatka Island, Sakalin Island, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Greece, Republic of Georgia, Spain, Italy, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, Himalayan Mountains, Yemen, Mexico, Central America, Panama, Guatemala, Caribbean Islands, South America, Colombia, Peru, South Africa, and Lesotho.

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
Photo by Jacob Burns

Not only is it widespread, the members are also adapted to a number of environments from hot, humid Sumatra rain forests where Sunshine calls home to cold, temperate deciduous forests, temperate and tropical wetlands, Mediterranean climates, and deserts.

Find caladiums and others as you stroll Brazil in the Garden this summer; visit #CBGSunshine the titan arum outside in the Sensory Garden and stay tuned for a potential bloom!

The Araceae is one of the larger plant families, containing 117 different genera. The Garden features 27 of those genera containing 152 species and cultivars. Our GardenGuide smartphone app features the locations where Sunshine’s family can be seen throughout the Garden. Many are grown ornamentally for their attractive leaf shape (philodendrons, anthuriums) and colorations (elephant ears, caladiums, dieffenbachia, pothos, taro) while others, anthuriums and Calla lilies chief among them, are grown for their attractive flowers. While not all members of the family smell bad—the Calla lily, for instance, has a light citrus fragrance and anthuriums don’t have any fragrance at all—many are real stinkers with common names like Dead Horse Arum, Dead Mouse Arum, and Corpse Flower.

Caladium bicolor 'White Dynasty'

White Dynasty caladium (Caladium bicolor) ‘White Dynasty’

Calla lily (Zantedeschia aetiopica)

Calla lily (Zantedeschia aetiopica)

Caladium 'Red Flash'

Red Flash elephant ear (Caladium ‘Red Flash’)

Most members of the family contain a number of compounds (often including calcium oxylate crystals) in their sap to deter herbivores that illicit a mechanical gag reflex in people. Calcium oxylate crystals look like glass shards on steroids under a microscope and play havoc with the soft tissues of the inside of the mouth, tongue, and throat. The most notable food crop in this family? Taro, or poi. Preparation of the starchy tubers have adapted techniques over the centuries that remove the toxic compounds.

Ready for an Aroid treasure hunt?

Find these titan arum relatives as you stroll the Tropical Greenhouse, where a titan arum leaf is also housed. Can you spot the family resemblance? 

Anthurium andraeanum 'White Heart'

Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum ‘White Heart’) is a classic anthurium flower of the florist trade in white with a red spadix; find it near the east entrance.

Anthurium x garfieldii

Find Garfield anthurium (Anthurium × garfieldii) in classical birds’ nest form with a long, thin flowering spathe and a spadix in dark maroon. Photo by horticulturist Wade Wheatley.

Monstera deliciosa

Split leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) has a vining habit; it is clambering up the side of the greenhouse sporting large, deeply divided leaves.

Dieffenbachia 'Camouflage'

Its name says it all: Camouflage dumb cane (Dieffenbachia ‘Camouflage’) is hidden west of the palm alleé.

Amorphophallus titanum leaves in the Production Greenhouses

Amorphophallus titanum leaves in the production greenhouses. Find one in the Tropical Greenhouse, too.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Well, here we are with another titan arum in bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden. (Java, the taller of our Titan Twins, began blooming at 8:28 p.m. on May 30.)

We never really considered the possibility that we might have two plants developing inflorescences at the same time. But it did not take too long to brainstorm some ideas on what we hope to learn from this rare possibility.

We have nicknamed these corpse flowers the Titan Twins because they grew from seed from the same parent plant.

The plants have been named Java and Sumatra, in recognition of two of the major islands in the nation of Indonesia. Amorphophallus titanum, the Latin name for the titan arum species, is native to the island of Sumatra.

The corms of the Titan Twins were almost identical in weight when they were measured several months ago; the young inflorescences emerged from the soil within 24 hours of each other, and until recently, they were within an inch of each other in height. On May 18, Java became—and remained—the taller of the two.

A school field trip visits the two titan arums on May 23, 2017.

A school field trip visits the two titan arums on May 23, 2017.

Java: height=79.75” and circumference 51.25”; Sumatra: height=69” and circumference of 54.75” at the moment

So what will we do to take advantage of possibly having two sibling plants coming into flower at the same time? We can’t cross-pollinate them, because this species has an incompatibility system that prevents successful fertilization between closely related individuals. Even if this weren’t the case, we want to maintain the highest levels of genetic diversity when producing offspring of this rare species—a conservation practice common among captive breeding programs of animals in zoos. (The Garden began collecting titan arums in 2003, as part of a worldwide conservation effort to preserve the species.) We do hope to pollinate one of the titan arums with pollen from an individual from another institution that has been stored “on ice” for just such an occasion. 

Having two plants blooming at nearly the same time allows us do an experiment to answer a question about what happens to the inflorescence just after pollination.

When Alice the Amorphophallus and Sprout bloomed at the Garden (Alice in September 2015 and Sprout in April 2016), we wondered if pollination of the female flowers influences how long the plant generates odor and heat. It is possible that when pollination takes place, it signals the plant to save energy and stop these energetically expensive processes. After all, pollination of the female flowers basically signals to the plant, “job well done.” Perhaps at that point, there’s no need to continue with the energy-intense display.

Dr. Pati Vitt checks out the pollination situation on our April 2016 bloom, Sprout.

Dr. Pati Vitt checks out the pollination situation on our April 2016 bloom, Sprout.

With two plants from the same parentage blooming at nearly the same time, we can do the experiment that could answer this question. We will not pollinate Java, the first plant that came into bloom, and then pollinate Sumatra, assuming it does open. We will record heat at regular intervals through use of a thermal camera and determine if the unpollinated inflorescence produces heat for a longer period than the pollinated one. Measuring odor production will be a bit more subjective—that will require sniff tests, and an abundant supply of fresh noses. Hopefully we will find some volunteers!

Check the video feed on the website, and plan your visit to see the titans in bloom today!

Patrick Herendeen and Pati Vitt


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

In the past year, more than 181 million people learned about Spike, Alice the Amorphophallus, and Sprout—the Chicago Botanic Garden’s titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum) that entered a bloom cycle—through various media sources.

Now even more people may have the chance to learn about the unique corpse flower from seedlings sowed at the Garden that have been shared throughout the United States.

It all began about 12 years ago when the Garden procured titan arum bulbs and seeds, which we carefully cultivated until they were ready to flower. With the bloom cycles of Alice and Sprout, we wanted to try to pollinate our plants. In nature, titan arums are pollinated by carrion beetles. Since such insects don’t exist at the Garden, we needed to do the work ourselves. As Spike, Alice, and Sprout are thought to be very closely related (with very similar genetic makeup), we speculated that fertilization with pollen from our first titan—Spike—to Alice would not occur: they were “self incompatible”—a term that often describes a plant species that is unable to be fertilized by its own pollen. So in addition to Spike’s pollen, we looked for genetically different pollen. Fortunately, the Denver Botanic Gardens also had a titan arum (“Stinky”) in bloom last year, and they sent us some of Stinky’s pollen, which we used to pollinate Alice.

After the pollination, Alice developed large, plump red fruits. These fruits were harvested and cleaned, and Deb Moore, part of the Garden’s plant production team, sowed the seeds. The result: about 40 quick-growing seedlings—each a single titan arum leaf

We decided to keep a few seedlings for our own uses, but we really wanted to share these young plants with the broader botanical community. We contacted institutions in the American Public Gardens Association to see if any would be interested in acquiring an Amorphophallus titanum.

We had great response. Seedlings were sent to 27 institutions (see Google map above), including the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden; the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University; the Botanic Garden of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts; Ganna Walska Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California; the University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Moscow, Idaho; Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C.; University of California-Davis Department of Plant Biology; and of course, three seedlings went to the Denver Botanic Gardens to grow alongside Stinky. 


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

I have an update on Alice the Amorphophallus: Alice has been repotted and has a leaf sprout. Yes, Alice is alive and well, happily growing in the production greenhouses here at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

(Many of you might remember we successfully pollinated Alice with pollen from Stinky, donated to us from the Denver Botanic Gardens’ own Amorphophallus titanum.)

Alice followed a normal growth cycle—as it would have in its native habitat on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia—producing fruit and seeds. This past summer, the flower stalk with the remaining fruit began to wither and collapse as Alice went into dormancy. (We successfully sowed and germinated the seeds, and were rewarded with several dozen seedlings.) On Tuesday, September 13, we removed Alice from the wooden crate she had been living in for the past 24 months, pleased to observe a healthy corm—and a new leaf shoot emerging from the top! We loosened the corm below the soil surface in order to repot it and record its current measurements, and got a few pretty interesting photos. 

First, we washed the corm thoroughly so we could examine it better and get accurate measurements of the corm’s weight and size. We looked for areas of rot, if any, and pulled off any new bulblets that may have developed. (We removed and potted up two new small bulblets—mini-corms—from Alice at this repotting.)

PHOTO: Amorphophallus corm before repotting.

Here is Alice the Amorphophallus as removed from the crate, before washing.

PHOTO: The freshly washed titan arum corm awaits weighing.

The freshly washed titan arum corm awaits weighing.

One big observation was that the corm had actually decreased in size and weight. The big cracks seen in the images below are from the corm rapidly shrinking in size. This is from the large amount of energy (starch and sugars) used for Alice to bloom, and in the production of fruit and seeds. Rather than losing mass and becoming spongy, the post-bloom and fruiting corm is the same density, but smaller in size—both diameter and height—by several inches.

PHOTO: Titan arum corm with emerging leaf sprout and roots.

Splits in the titan arum’s corm are from its rapid decrease in size as energy was used up.

PHOTO: Closeup of a large split in the titan arum corm.

Close-up of a large split in the corm

Now Alice is getting ready to begin the life cycle all over again as a leaf. A ring of new roots at the top of the corm is to support the growth of the emerging leaf bud. The roots do not form or add to a new corm—new corms come from the main corm as bulblets on the side and bottom of the original corm.

The corm has been repotted in a mixture of peat, coir (coconut fiber), composted bark, and perlite, back in its original crate, which still has room to grow in it. 

PHOTO: Alice the Amorphophallus gets ready to leaf out, almost exactly a year after blooming.

Alice the Amorphophallus gets ready to leaf out, almost exactly a year after blooming.

Here are some interesting details on the corm: 

  • Corm size: 13 inches in diameter and 7.5 inches in height
  • Corm weight: 17.5 pounds (weight at last repotting in 2014 was 28.2 pounds)
  • Base of old stem (top growth plate): 4.75 inches in diameter
  • Bottom growth plate: 3.5 inches in diameter
  • New growth/leaf shoot: 2 inches tall (still underground) with a healthy rosette of new roots
  • Surface of the corm: very lumpy and warty looking

I can’t believe it has been a year since we all gathered in the Semitropical Greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden to celebrate Alice’s bloom and stink. What an event that was! Alice will bloom another day, maybe three to five years from now; we will just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, it’s likely another one of the titan arums in our collection will bloom before then. 


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Sharing the Titan Arum Love

Chicago Botanic Garden gives corpse flower to Garfield Park Conservatory

Karen Z. —  June 17, 2016 — Leave a comment

Spring is traditionally the season that gardener friends and neighbors share plants. So when we noticed in late May that one of the 13 corpse flowers in the production greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden was showing signs of sending up an inflorescence, we knew it was time to share.

PHOTO: Loading up the titan arum bud in the truck.

We bid a fond farewell to titan arum no. 5 (now dubbed “Persephone”) on May 31, 2016. The titan traveled by truck to its new home at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Wanting to spread the titan bounty and to make this amazing plant accessible to Chicagoans from all parts of the city, the Garden turned to our friends at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Titan arums hail from the rainforests of Sumatra, and therefore need the high humidity and controlled warmth of a greenhouse. (Check: the Conservatory’s Jens Jensen-designed greenhouses include an Aroid House with lagoon.) The plants are notoriously slow to reach the flowering stage and unpredictable when they do—careful horticultural monitoring is a must. (Check: we heart horticulturists.) And the Conservatory is located mere steps from Garfield Park’s beautifully renovated Green Line “L” stop, the city’s most central and accessible train line (super check).

Traveling in the city? Take the Green Line directly to the restored Conservatory–Central Park Drive el station.

Traveling in the city? Take the Green Line directly to the restored Conservatory–Central Park Drive “L” station.

For the Garden’s horticulture team, it has been a labor of love to raise “titan no. 5” to this stage. Grown from seed sent in 2008 by the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, the plant had developed the largest known corm in the Garden’s collection. When it was repotted in December 2015, the corm weighed in at 48.2 pounds and measured 16 inches wide and 12 inches tall. Through careful propagation and much TLC, the horticulture staff had coaxed this corpse flower toward opening in just eight years—a fairly short time frame in the life cycle of a titan. 

Mary Eysenbach, director of conservatories at the Chicago Park District, and her team at the Conservatory were thrilled to accept the gift of a titan arum, especially one nearing its first bloom. Dubbed “Persephone,” the plant was installed in the Aroid House, where it has been happily growing…and growing…among the Chihuly glass sculptures, reaching 69 inches in height by Thursday, June 16.

All signs now point to the corpse flower opening soon: slowing growth, reddening of the spathe, drying of the bracts. (Read more about the life cycle of titan arums on our blog.)

A titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) in bloom.

A titan arum’s inflorescence opens for a short time—just a day or two—and emits a powerfully stinky smell for the first few hours, as the female flowers inside put out the call for pollinators.

If you saw Spike or Alice or Sprout  at the Chicago Botanic Garden—or heard about “that stinky flower” through the news or social media—you know what a rare, amazing, sensational phenomenon a corpse flower can be. Increasingly rare in the wild, a flowering titan is a sight to behold, and a wonderful way to learn more about the astounding lives of the world’s plants.

We’re proud to share a titan arum with the Garfield Park Conservatory, and encourage everyone to visit, watch, and smell as its inflorescence opens.

Want to see Persephone in person? Take the Green Line directly to Conservatory–Central Park Drive. Follow the titan’s progress @gpconservatory #‎GPCPersephone‬.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org