After a week long vigil, it finally happened. I am not here referring to a special birthday in the U.K. but to a very rare life cycle event much closer to home - the blooming of the 8 foot high tropical titan arum plant. On Monday, July 22, the U.S. Botanic Garden at 101 Maryland Ave. NW in Washington temporarily extended its visiting hours to 8 PM to accommodate the thousands of visitors who at times had to line up around the block to witness this rare event. Gawkers could also watch from home via a special live feed that has already drawn over a half million views.
This giant of plants, which also goes by its scientific name amorphophallus titanum, is native to the Indonesian rain forests. It has the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. An inflorescence is a floral structure composed of many smaller individual flowers. Due to its odor which resembled the smell of a rotting animal, it is also known as the corpse flower. In the wild, the pungent odor attracts carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies that pollinate it. The strong smell, which peaks at the early stages of flowering, was largely gone by the Monday morning visitors rush. The corm is the largest known, often exceeding 100 pounds. The last such event at the Botanic Gardens took place in 2007, though that was a different titan arum. This plant, which started to flower on Sunday night, will only bloom for 24 to 48 hours and then will collapse quickly. As the plant has a very irregular blooming cycle, no one can say for sure when the natural spectacle will take place again. Titan arum is becoming uncommon in the wild as native habitats have diminished due to illegal logging and land conversion for agricultural purposes.