Guest blog by Holly Guenther of www.kimchikawaii.com
One of the reasons I love living in a college town – access to really cool happenings. UC Davis has a very cool botanical conservatory that is home to a huge variety of plants. The ones that steal the show are the corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanium) also known as the titan arum. The staff at the UCD Conservatory have fondly named their plants Ted, Tammy and Tom. I think there was another named Tabitha, but if I remember correctly, that one died. Anyway, corpse flowers are the largest unbranched flower in the world. In the wild, they can grow to over 6 ft tall! So what’s the big deal? It looks like a moldy french baguette wrapped in a cabbage leaf!
Titan arums take years to bloom and the flower only lasts for about a day or so as it takes an enormous amount of energy for the blooming process. Underground is the corm which is sort of like a bulb and looks like a really lumpy potato, lol. This sends up a tree-like leaf every year that helps to gather energy to store in the corm. The leaf dies, and it goes dormant before sending up another leaf. It does this until there is enough energy to flower. Titan arums rely on flies for pollination so when it opens, it raises quite a stink, literally! It really does smell like rotting meat or a dead animal. To further uh…enhance? the smell, the central part will heat up close to human body temperatures. After this big show, the flower will wilt and if there has been a successful pollination, seeds will form. It will go dormant again and then start the process all over again.
I had first learned of the titan arums (and the UCD Conservatory) back in 2009 when Ted the Titan bloomed for the fourth time. It’s a pretty big deal since these are so rare, so there are news blasts that will go out on campus and to the local news channels. When I heard that Tammy was blooming, I started keeping an eye on the progress on their Facebook page. Tammy teased everyone and took her own sweet time opening. Finally, they announced that she was blooming on Sunday afternoon. Even though I’m in the middle of a super busy time right now as I prep for Anime Expo, I grabbed the camera and jumped on public transit to check it out.
The flower wasn’t fully open when I got there, but still fascinating and starting to attract an audience. We mostly stood around and stared at it and asked questions of the staff. It was really otherworldly. I overheard this one girl say ‘I thought it would look more like a flower, not something from Little Shop of Horrors’ which was pretty funny. The smell wasn’t as potent when I went, but that was fine with me. I had visited Ted when he was at full stink. Add to that the record heat we were having at the time and all the body heat from visitors and I felt like I could FEEL and taste the smell. Yum-eee!!
If you can get over the stink (or go when it’s not so potent), the plant does have a kind of strange beauty. I spent some time photographing it in detail before heading back home. All in all, am glad I went and saw Ted’s stinky sister
Tammy is done doing her thing for this time around, but the conservatory is open weekdays til 5. Even though the titans are kind of the ‘stars’ there are still many other equally interesting plants inside. I also saw a coffee tree with coffee beans and a chocolate tree with the pods. Whenever I go there, I make sure I take extra batteries and my camera as there is always something to photograph!
Follow their Facebook page to stay on top of when the titans are blooming. The conservatory also has a their home page with information about visiting (directions, hours, parking, etc.).