Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Heads or Tails #42 -- Flower

In today's Heads or Tails challenge, Barb, that delicate bloom of the Blogosphere, has asked us to consider the word "flower."

I know, Barb, where I'm expected to go with this. I'm sure many of today's participants will write about flowers they grow or flowers they got... or didn't get... from that special someone. So I'll just veer wildly off course and talk about....

The Corpse Flower

You're looking at a "corpse flower," the titan arum, in full bloom, this particular bloom from the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C. in November of 2005.

In its November 21, 2005 editions, the Chicago Tribune ran an AP article by Jacob Adelman concerning the event. This titan arum, Adelman wrote, can grow up to 12 feet high in its native Sumatra, although the 2005 Washington specimen was only about five feet high. The plant was 14 years old when it produced its first blossom.

And the reason why the titan arum is nicknamed the "corpse plant"?

To put it politely... it stinks. It smells worse than the messy bedroom of a teenage boy on a hot day with the windows closed and the air conditioning broken. The plant emits an "odor," Adelman wrote, "that has drawn comparisons to garbage, spoiled meat and rotting fish."

A National Geographic online article about a 2002 bloom at the Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, California described the stench "as similar to that of rotting eggs, a dead elephant, [or] an outhouse in sweltering heat." (And people turn out in droves to see one of these things when a bloom occurs. Go figure.)

The stink is the secret to the plant's survival, as, in the wild, it is pollinated by carrion beetles.

At right is a picture of the 2002 California bloom, obtained from this site.

Now that you've seen a couple of pictures of the plant, perhaps you won't snicker quite so much when you learn that the scientific name of this oversized daisy is Amorphophallus titanum.

You Classics students in the back -- stop it! Stop it now!

The National Geographic article says that the scientific name "provides a clue as to why matrons of the Victorian age prevented young ladies from seeing" the flower in bloom. Looking at the pictures will provide another clue. I'll let you figure the rest out on your own.

This "corpse flower" should not be confused with Rafflesia arnoldii, which is also sometimes called a "corpse flower." Wikipedia says that Raffelsia arnoldii is the largest individual flower in the world: "There are some plants with larger flowering organs, the Titan Arum and Talipot palm, but these are technically clusters of many flowers."

Here is a picture, straight from Wikipedia, of the Raffelsia arnoldii.

Nothing in the shape of this corpse flower would necessarily give offense to Victorian ladies... but it also reportedly stinks of rotting flesh in order to attract the flies that pollinate this monster.

Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

You can find even more "carrion flowers" in this Wikipedia article. And if you buy some for your mother-in-law, you're on your own.


landgirl said...

Oh, Cur, I have been missing your quirky kinda humour in my life. I'm pleased to be able to be first to respond to corpse flower. i remember studying chemistrty very hard late one night --I was by now supposedly a mature student-- and trying to memorize some amines and their formulae and ran into cadaverine--so named for the ghastly way it smelled. Late at night for some reason it sent me into giggles.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

The Corpse Flower sounds as if it is well named!

Ben & Bennie said...

Just as I arrived at the second picture I was thinking how it looked like a Toltec/Aztec/Incan phallic symbol. And some say I have a sick imagination...perfect scientific name (he thinks while snickering in the back).

Skittles said...

I was snickering way before I read the name. :P

TroyBoy said...

Curmudgeon - Oh, my.

PS Come over and check out my post from Monday. Me thinks that you'll REALLLLLLLLY like it!