Field of Science

Don't do this at home - Corpse plant flowers

Here's a video of the corpse plant flowering (Amorphophallus titanum). Yes, this video shows "flowering" but you don't see the flowers. This is basically one damned big jack-in-the-pulpit and a member of the aroid family, so there is a spike with flowers at its base and a big sterile apex ("jack" - the spadix) subtended by a modified leaf, a bract called the spathe (the pulpit). What's unusual about the titan arum is that the whole thing is so damned big and smells of incredibly bad, unless you like the odor of carrion.  What you see here is the sterile top of the spadix extending beyond the spathe which is what opens giving access to the many unisexual flowers at the base of the spadix.  Many of aroids flower using food and water stored in a big fleshy underground stem, a corm, and they do this in a season when their vegetative growth is dormant. In another season a big single leaf grows and the process of storing food for reproduction continues. The flowering of a corm is a big deal because it can take a number of years for a corm to get big enough to flower. TPP was given a tennis-ball-sized corm of a smaller species of Amorphophallus (Can you figure out the genus name?), and each year the corm was dug in the fall and stored in the basement in a pot of sand.  Each year it grew the corm got bigger and in 5 years it was the size of a volleyball or small basketball, and then while being stored a shoot emerged in February. So being curious TPP brought the pot upstairs and a 4 foot tall inflorescence appeared just like the titan arum, just much smaller, but hoo boy, it did smell.  Mrs. Phactor's curiosity quickly waned and demanded its removal. My colleagues being good biologists enjoyed showing the item to students all day long and explaining about pollination attractants and pollinators, floral placement, and pollination.  Great stuff.  Here's a diagram of the life cycle although it labels the corm as a tuber. 

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