Amorphophallus titanum: The Giant and Stinky Flower

Ancient Greek Unraveled What's the hidden meaning behind Amorphophallus titanum's name
Amorphophallus titanum means “giant misshapen phallus” in Ancient Greek. Talk about a Freudian slip!


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For those in a hurry

  • Amorphophallus titanum is a rare plant native to Sumatra, Indonesia.
  • It has the largest unbranched inflorescence (a cluster of flowers) in the world, reaching up to 3 meters in height.
  • It smells like rotting flesh to attract pollinators such as flies and beetles.
  • It blooms very rarely, on average every 7-10 years, and only lasts for a few days.
  • It is endangered due to habitat loss and over-collection.

What is Amorphophallus titanum?

Amorphophallus titanum, also known as the corpse flower or titan arum, is a flowering plant in the family Araceae. It is one of the most spectacular and bizarre plants on Earth, with a huge and foul-smelling inflorescence that can dwarf a human.

The name Amorphophallus titanum comes from Ancient Greek and means “giant misshapen phallus”. This is because the inflorescence consists of a large, hollow spadix (a spike-like structure) that resembles a baguette, surrounded by a spathe (a leaf-like bract) that is green on the outside and dark red on the inside. The spadix can reach over 3 meters in height, making it the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. The spathe can be up to 2 meters in diameter, creating a vase-like shape.

Why does Amorphophallus titanum smell so bad?

The corpse flower is aptly named, as it emits a strong odor of rotting flesh when it blooms. This is not a coincidence, but a clever adaptation to attract pollinators. The plant relies on insects such as flies and beetles that are normally attracted to dead animals to carry its pollen from one inflorescence to another. To lure them in, the plant not only produces a stinky smell, but also heats up its spadix to create a warm and humid environment that mimics a decomposing carcass.

The smell is strongest at night, when the plant opens its spathe and releases its pollen. The odor gradually fades as the inflorescence withers and collapses. The whole blooming process only lasts for about 24 to 48 hours, making it a rare and fleeting spectacle.

How does it grow and reproduce?

The corpse flower is not a single flower, but a collection of thousands of tiny flowers called florets that are hidden at the base of the spadix. There are two types of florets: male and female. The female florets open first, followed by the male florets. This prevents self-pollination and ensures cross-pollination with other plants.

The corpse flower does not have stems or leaves like most plants. Instead, it has a large underground tuber that can weigh up to 200 kg. The tuber stores energy and nutrients for the plant’s growth and reproduction. After blooming, the inflorescence dies and the tuber goes dormant for several months or years. Then, it produces either a new inflorescence or a single leaf that can reach up to 6 meters in height and 4 meters in width. The leaf resembles a small tree with many leaflets. It photosynthesizes and replenishes the tuber’s energy until it dies. The cycle then repeats.

The corpse flower can also reproduce by seeds, which are produced after successful pollination. The seeds are contained in bright red berries that are arranged in cylindrical clusters along the spadix. The berries are eaten by birds and other animals, which help disperse the seeds to new locations.

Where can you see Amorphophallus titanum?

The corpse flower is native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, where it grows in shady and moist areas. However, it is very rare and endangered in its natural habitat due to deforestation, land conversion, and over-collection by local people who use its tuber as food or medicine.

Fortunately, you can still see this amazing plant in some botanical gardens around the world that have successfully cultivated it. Some of these gardens have live webcams or announce their blooming events on social media, so you can witness this phenomenon from afar. But be warned: if you ever get a chance to see it in person, be prepared for a sensory overload!