On Christmas night 2020, a gift was revealed at Mount Lofty Botanic Garden that truly stank. A gift that whiffs of rotting flesh or an extremely pungent blue cheese, depending on who you ask.
And while this might seem like an unwelcome gift, it was actually quite the opposite; it was a cherished and much photographed delight. It was a blooming Corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum, also known as Titan Arum.
The plant is originally from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, but is endangered in the wild due to deforestation.
To help conserve this remarkable species, a number of botanic gardens across the globe are fighting for its survival, working out how to grow more individuals and keep its genetic diversity strong, ready for when it can once again find a safe haven in its native land.
You may ask why it needs to smell so fetid.
Well, the potent pong attracts pollinators from far and wide – and attract them it must, because the inflorescence can only be pollinated on its first night.
This slim reproductive opportunity is made even more urgent because it can take ten years or more for a single plant to flower for the first time. And following that first bloom, it may still only flower once every two or three years.
So, how do you conserve such a reproductive slow burner, a panda of the plant world?
Although the plant is notoriously difficult to propagate, with lots of tender loving care from our Horticultural Curator and Titan Arum expert, Matt Coulter, this phenomenal botanical species is thriving here in our nursery.
Indeed, there was a flurry of new stinky life this summer with another plant blooming just a month after the Christmas delight, on 22 January 2021.
“This is the ninth Titan Arum to bloom at our Botanic Gardens and we learn something new every time it happens,” said Matt.
“We share our information – samples for DNA genotyping, propagation techniques, strange happenings and even corms – to other institutions across the world who are also looking out for this species. So, together, we are really making some good inroads to helping conserve Titan Arum,” he added.
From these two recent flowers, which reached a lofty 2.2 metres and 1.9 metres high respectively, Matt collected pollen which is currently chilling out in the Botanic Gardens Nursery freezer based at Mt Lofty Botanic Garden.
When the time comes, it can be used to hand pollinate a different plant, hopefully producing new and more genetically diverse seed.
We can see why Matt was on Santa’s ‘good list’!
You can watch a time lapse of one of our Corpse flowers blooming in 2017 here
Following the devastating 2020 bushfires on Kangaroo Island, scientists at the SA Seed Conservation Centre have visited the island a number of times to investigate what botanical treasures have regrown, and to collect seeds and plant specimens with a conservation aim.