Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Gigantic shapeless penis.....

......or Amorphophallus titanum to you, sir. The Titan arum in the Basel Botanical Garden bloomed over the Easter weekend. I was following the progress over the webcam and as soon as it unfurled (around 2200h on the 22nd of April) we made plans to see it the following day. As it turned out we could only catch it at 10pm on the 23rd, but luckily the garden's opening hours were extended until midnight for the special occasion. Despite the late hour, there was still a respectable crowd, and it took 30 minutes of patient shuffling before we were ushered into its presence. Standing proudly erect (snigger) at 2m it was the focus of attention. The garden had installed mirrors on the ceiling (behave!) for the crowd to get a down-blouse view (I give up!) into the blood-red spathe. The titan arum is pollinated in the wild by flies which it attracts by giving off a scent like rotting flesh (hence the local Malay name, bunga bangkai, or corpse flower). I only caught faint whiffs of something rank but staff at the garden assured us that it reeked when the flower finally opened. Later at the concession stand, there were vials of "scent" on sale containing a cocktail of amines and sulphides that were claimed to faithfully mimic the scent and these smelt really rank.

Onlooker included for a sense of scale

Top-down view into the spathe
Better quality image from the official web-cam

We were shooed out after 5 minutes but it was enough, been there, done that and now for the Rafflesia arnoldii next!

One can quibble if the A. titanum does indeed produce the largest flower as the structure is technically an inflorescence and the actual male and female flowers are tiny. The other contender is, as mentioned above, R. arnoldii which is a single flower and has the advantage of looking like a conventional blossom (as imagined by a 6-year old).
R. arnoldii (left)

Both plants are from SE Asia and are emblematic of the richness in biodiversity to be found there. If I were a billionaire I would buy huge tracts of virgin forest and just leave it untouched.

Later on, just strolling through the botanical garden I was pleasantly surprised to find the Chinese Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata) in bloom.
Ghostly white bracts to attract nocturnal pollinators
I had only ever seen it in bloom in daytime so it was nice to catch it at the appropriate moment.

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