Chicago Botanic Garden Visitors Witness The Rare Bloom Of Two Corpse Flowers

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Giant Titan Arum in bloom (Photo Credit: Chicago Botanic Garden)

Some fortunate visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden recently witnessed the rare opening of not one, but two, titan arums. Better known as corpse flowers due to their pungent odor that resembles decaying flesh, the massive plants bloom once every ten years, and that too, for only a few hours. However, that may be a good thing given that when the petals unfurl, the stench emanated is so foul that it has earned the titan arum the title of the “world's smelliest flower.”

As with everything in nature, there is a good reason for the smell - it is meant to lure insects to help with pollination. Experts believe that the competition for natural pollinators like bees is so high in the tropical climate where the plants grow, it was forced to evolve to recruit a different kind of pollinator - insects like flies, beetles, and wasps, which feed on dead animals. The foul odor helps attract the unsuspecting pollinators inside the massive flower which is filled with sticky pollen. Once that occurs, the flower withers, enabling the insects to escape with the powder stuck to their bodies.

Photo Credit: Chicagobotanic.org

Chicago Botanic Garden’s recently bloomed “Titan Twins,” named Java and Sumatra were grown from seed from the same plant. They have been at the conservatory since 2008 and are the fourth and fifth corpse flowers to open from a collection of 17 such plants. For reasons unknown to the experts, the twins are bigger and stronger than the garden’s other titan arums.

Java, which measures an impressive 52-inches tall and 34-inches wide, began to bloom on the evening of May 30, giving visitors, some of whom had been waiting since 6:30 AM, a whiff of what smelled like an open-air fish market. The 45-inches tall and 40-inches wide Sumatra followed shortly after on June 1.

The experts at the Center used this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the blooming of two plants from the same seed to determine the age-old question of how long female flowers continue to generate odor and heat once pollination is complete. They hypothesized that as soon as the plant detects an insect, it stops wasting precious energy and withers. To test the thesis, the officials hand pollinated Sumatra with pollen obtained from an unrelated titan arum to maintain genetic diversity. Java, on the other hand, was allowed to close with no pollination. The results of the experiment have not been revealed yet.

Hand-pollinating Sumatra (Photo Credit: Chicagobotanic.org

Though both flowers closed within the expected 24-hour period, the majestic titan arums remained on display for visitors to admire until June 8. They were then moved back to the greenhouse to continue their growing cycle so that they can hopefully delight the world with another spectacular, albeit stinky, bloom in ten years.

In the wild, titan arums can be only be found in the equatorial forests of Sumatra, Indonesia. The plants, which resemble a small tree, grow extremely rapidly, adding about a quarter of an inch every hour. Fully-grown titan arums can reach heights in excess of 20-feet, widths close to 16-feet and weigh as much as 70 pounds. Though many conservatories around the world cultivate the exotic giant plants, fewer than 300 are known to have bloomed since record-keeping began in 1889. It is no wonder that the opening of these foul-smelling flowers generates such excitement.

Resources: gmannetwork.com, chicagobotanic.org.

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albeitconservatoriesconservatorydecayingdiversityemanatedequatorialfoulhypothesizedimpressiveluremajesticodorpollinatorspungentrecruitspectacularthesisunfurlwithers
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Reading Comprehension (10 questions)

  1. What did Chicago Botanic Garden visitors witness recently?
  2. Why is the titan arum also called corpse flower?

Critical Thinking Challenge

Can you think of the reason the plants are called...

Vocabulary in Context

“Once that occurs, the flower withers, enabling the insects to escape with the powder stuck to their bodies.”

In the above sentence, the word withers most likely means:

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160 Comments
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  • My name jetFriday, September 8, 2017 at 11:37 am
    This topic is very interesting but I don't think it's that cool
    • GabrielaWednesday, September 6, 2017 at 8:27 am
      That so cool
      • buggThursday, August 31, 2017 at 11:12 am
        so cool
        • GoldenEarbudsFriday, August 25, 2017 at 10:16 am
          Wow that is iteresting
          • bikegirl2005
            bikegirl2005Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 3:20 pm
            The stench has to be amazing to stay that long! Java and Samatra are so big! I am so glad I wasn't there to witness the blooming, but also wish I was there to see the titan arums bloom as it would be a very memorable moment in my life! Safely I would try and stay away so I don't have to smell them for to long, but I would still try and see them!
            • momoThursday, August 17, 2017 at 11:00 am
              one flower, "stinky!" two flowers, "where's the restroom?"
              • menon
                menonThursday, August 17, 2017 at 5:47 am
                iv seen this befor
                • SplashTuesday, August 15, 2017 at 8:53 am
                  That weird and nasty
                  • cree23
                    cree23Sunday, August 13, 2017 at 3:39 pm
                    it' from indonesia, it stinks so bad.
                    • HaleyWednesday, August 9, 2017 at 10:40 pm
                      I remember reading a article about this at school. Still, very interesting.

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