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Titan arum

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Titan arum
Titan arum main.jpg
Scientific Classification

Amorphophallus titanum

Native Habitat - Sumatra, Indonesia
Sumatra location.png

The Titan arum is a species of plant known by the scientific name Amorphophallus titanum. It is also known by the common name 'bunga bangkai' in Sumatra, which is translated as 'corpse flower' because of its unsatisfying smell of rotten egg and fish. It was first discovered by an Italian botanist named Odoardo Beccari. Its scientific name, Amorphos, applies for 'without form' or misshapen, and phallos for 'penis' in Ancient Greek term. [1] The corpse flower is a vascular plants, possessing xylem and phloem for the conduction and transportation of food, minerals, and water, and one fascinating flowering, fruit producing plant. The native habitat of this species is only Sumatra, Indonesia. Few people nowadays keep this as house plants. However, the titans are listed as one of the vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a result of incessant plant vandalism. [2] Amorphophallus titanum crowns as the largest inflorescence (groups of leaves; compound flower) and the tallest flower (rarely over 9ft) in the planet earth. In addition, the tuber of this plant can calculate 200 pounds, the largest in the plant kingdom. This wonderful creature is an autotroph; a plant that performs photosynthesis process to obtain its own food for survival. [3]

Amorphophallus titanum was created on the third day of creation.

Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so. [4]


Titan arum close-up

The Titan arum is the largest inflorescence (compound flower), the tallest, and one of the stinkiest flowers in the world. The flower is capable of growing 6 inches a day for few days and 2 inches a day after a while. The diameter of the inflorescence can amazingly nearly reach over 10 ft with 200 pounded tuber (the largest tuber in the plant kingdom). When coming out from the ground, the flower shows itself as a green, bud-shaped configuration composed of a petal-like spathe that surrounds a central spike-like spadix, which is concealed inside at first, and eventually grows in size and finally revealing itself as the entire flower swells. Certain parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.

The plant takes in immense amount of sunlight energy with its enormous leaves and stores the energy in its corm, which is located underground. After several years, the plant is inclined to flower with the adequate accumulation of the energy, as the corm approximately surpasses 140 to 170 lbs. The spathe uncovers to display its internal crimsons as the spadix maintains its growth in height, emerging above the spathe; the upper part is brownish-yellow and is the appendix. In fact, the ultimate height relies on the amount of energy stored in the corm. Rate of growth is dependent on the temperatures of day and night. The corpse flower remains full bloom for only about 2 days and collapses into a dead stage (worn-out heap), and then it alternates the cycle. [5]

Flowers - seed producing parts of the plant. Male flowers are located in a band on top of the female flowers, which are visible at the bottom of the spadix. After pollination, the female flowers are displayed as olive-sized bright red fruits. [6]

The corpse flower is also believed to be one of the stinkiest flowers in the world, having the strongest odor the first night or first two evenings after blooming. According to some observers, the scent seems to hold resemblance to rotten fish, which is caused by sulfur compounds, also contained in rotten eggs, providing the flower its smell. [7]

The species carry on photosynthesis in order to obtain food to survive - the process during which sugars are formed from carbon dioxide and water in the presence of light and chlorophyll, which cellular respiration converts into ATP. Most of the time, the process utilizes water and releases the oxygen. The formula is 6H2O + 6CO2 -> C6H12O6 + 6O2 (Carbon dioxide plus water plus energy yields glucose plus oxygen). The process is divided into two stages: the light dependent and independent stages. The first stage is called the Light Dependent Process and occurs in the grana of chloroplasts. It requires the direct contact of sunlight energy to make energy that is used in the second stage. The light independent process takes place usually during dark in the stroma of the chloroplasts, while covalent bonds of carbohydrates are produced by the light dependent. Thus, the species is an autotroph, meaning that it can obtain its own food from the conversion of light or chemical energy. The vast leaves of the titans indicate the fact that they are the great successors of the photosynthesis process.[8]

Vascular Tissues – transports water and nutrients throughout the plant. Xylem and phloem are two different types of vascular tissue made of columns of specialized cells stacked on top of another, forming a complex system of tubes that extend perpendicularly from the root ends to the tip of the uppermost stem and across from the trunk to the leaves. The xylem generally conveys water and dissolved minerals within a plant, primarily from the roots upward. When xylem tissues mature, the cells die, leaving long conducting tubes. In addition to the transportation ability, the thick walls of the xylem buttress the plant. On the other hand, phloem is generally thinner and carries water and dissolved foods from the leaves throughout the plant. The vascular cambium, which is located between the xylem and phloem, functions to segregate the two tissues, and the source of stem cells that will eventually differentiate into one of them. [9]

Fibrous root system – unlike taproot root system, fibrous exhibits many branched roots. Root hairs not only increase the surface area of the roots but also operate to absorb nutrients and water out of the soil.

Stems – the main trunk of a plant, which impart structure support for leaves and transport nutrients and water. In Titan arum, the stem is the corm that stores energy as well. [10]


Amorphophallus titanum displaying its bright scarlet fruits after the reproductive stage. Its leaves are completely shrunk
The corpse flower spends most of its life as a gigantic tree, the vegetative stage

All plants accomplish sexual reproduction. However for this particular plant, the reproductive cycle of the titan arum is amusing. The corpse flower begins its life with the reproductive stage first before stepping into the vegetative stage, repeating these stages throughout its entire life span. Thus, the Amorphophallus titanum follows the alternation of generation.

Reproductive stage –The inflorescence starts on emerging from the heaviest tuber in the plant kingdom, with 200 lbs, with the growth rate of approximately 4 inches per day. After few weeks, it is ready to receive the pollinators, such as flies, carrion beetles, and sweat bees. The pollinators are attracted to the coloration and stinking scent at its base, go into the unfurled spathe chamber, which impels the spathe to trap them inside, (usually they stay in the chamber for few days), and any pollen that the insects are already conveying brush off on the female flowers. Male flowers actually disperse their pollen on the next day the pollinators enter, rubbing on the pollinators, and then proceed to another flower while they are dusted with the pollen. Therefore, the result illustrates that the self-pollination of the corpse flower is prevented. The size of the inflorescence can disperse the scent over large areas, so thus, is the great factor to attracting the pollinators because the plants hardly ever grow in close to one another. The fruits of the species begin to mature inside the spathe chamber from the pollinated female flowers. When they are ripe, the spathe entirely shrinks displaying the bright scarlet fruits, which draw the attention of the avians, such as hornbills that consume them and scatter their seeds. [11]

Vegetative Stage – the dominant generation, having columnar branching pattern. After blooming, the inflorescence of the plant dies back and in its place a single leaf appears, which in time reaches the size of a small tree, up to 20 ft tall and 15 ft across. The leaf is sleek green and shows many leaflets. [12] While in the vegetative stage, the leaf accumulates sugars and amasses them in the tuber. Therefore, the leaf can continually develop. Ultimately, the tuber turns inactive (the dormant stage) for about four months, and then a new inflorescence of the Titan arum appears, entering the reproductive stage. The plant repeats these two cycles throughout its life. [13]


Crowd surrounding the Amorphophallus titanum, easily surpassing a man's height as shown

The native habitat of the species is the moist shaded rainforests of Western Sumatra, Indonesia. However, due to rain forest destruction, the titans are listed as one of the vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Sumatrans are familiar with the name ‘bunga bangkai’, translated as ‘corpse flower’ owing to the extreme repulsive scent.

This magnificent flower was first discovered by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in Sumatra in 1878 while Beccari was traveling through the rainforest of Sumatra. The botanist, instead of returning empty-handed, collected the seeds of the plant, and later the seeds were given to a garden in England called Kew Gardens in 1889, enormously catching the public’s attentions. In 1926, as the Titan bloomed again, which attracted too many visitors that the police was even summoned to stop them. Thus, the species, not only draw attention of the public, but also is the key to more understanding of plants for children. [14]

Currently, the flower can be seen in several countries, including USA (Milwaukee, Los Angeles, North Carolina, and so on), Germany, Australia, etc. Some people even keep them as house plants. Yet the Titans are threatened to be extinct as a result of:

  • Over-collection for agricultural ambitions
  • Habitat destruction, especially in rainforests in Sumatra, Indonesia
  • Ecology breakdown; decrease of pollinators and seed distributors
  • Vandalism of the green, etc. [15]


Two visitors gesticulating to indicate the stinking smell of the corpse flower behind

The opinions on the smell of the titans are diverse; visitors remark it as rotten egg, some as rotten fish, meat, and even cheese. This is caused by sulfur compounds that give rotten egg-alike smell. According to gardeners and botanists, the strongest odor takes place the first and the second evening after blooming. The size of the inflorescence might be one of the factors to spreading the smell. [16]

In fact, the smell is essential because it attracts the pollinators, such as carrion beetles and sweat bees. As the pollinators enter, the spathe closes and traps them inside. The next day, the male flowers discharge their pollen and the spathe opens again. Therefore, the insects must crawl up to escape, rubbing the pollen onto the female flowers on their way. After fertilization, beautiful bright red fruits, as the size of olives are displayed. [17]

World Record

Technically, the largest single flower is the Rafflesia arnoldii, one of the most stinking parasitic flowers in the world. The flower of Rafflesia can measure 3 ft across and 15 pounds. [18] Amorphophallus titanum is known to be the largest inflorescence (more than one flower) in the world, The flower normally grows about six feet tall. The record had been set as 2.67 m (8.76 ft) in Wageningen, Holland, in 1932 until the out-of-this-world report came in, that one Titan in Bonn, Germany unbelievably reached 2.74 m in height, that is 9 ft. There have been reports without evidence over the years that one corpse flower measured over 3.40 m (11 ft). Thus, botanists state that the growth of the Titans is unpredictable.

Additionally, one titan called Ted conserved in University of California (with proof) lasted for four days with its full bloom, which is the longest known. The height of the plant hardly calculated 1.1 m (3 ft 8 in), but mostly the titans are capable of remaining full bloomed barely two days. [19]

Alternation of Generation

The corpse flower is one of the plants that follow the alternation of generation, which means the reproductive cycle in which the asexual reproductive stages give rise to sexual reproductive stages that, in turn, give rise to asexual reproductive stages; between reproductive and vegetative stages.

During reproductive stage, flower emerges from the tuber that later stinks, experiences fertilization and displays its beautiful fruits.

During vegetative stage, after the flower dies, the titan stores light energy in its tuber for the growth support for the flower in reproductive stage, resembles a small tree, having columnar branching pattern with umbrella-like shape. Its life beings with the reproductive stage before stepping into the vegetative stage, and repeats these two stages throughout its entire life span. The vegetative stage is the dominant generation.

Habitat Devastation

The corpse flowers are only native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, where the substantial depredations of forests have been occurring, losing around 72 % of its cover and they are very hard to grow in cultivation. Consequently, Amorphophallus, including the Titans, are now considered endangered, as well as the rhinoceros hornbill, the major seed distributors.

Yet the people have not given up hope. Organizations such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and Bogor Botanic Gardens, and Indonesia have been convened, putting their efforts into the maintenance of the rainforest. In order to spread this plant, the organizations have taken the seeds for cultivation and investigations have been continuing to provide more information. [20]

Other Amorphophallus

Amorphophallus konjac.jpg
Amorphophallus konjac - one of the most remarkable species of Amorphophallus besides Titan arum
Konnyaku - Japanese healthy dietary food made from Amorphophallus konjac
Amorphophallus bulbifer with an appealing appearance and no stinking odor
Amorphophallus paeoniifolius - one of the ugliest flowers on planet

There are currently 170 known species under genus Amorphophallus, all of which are endangered and only native to Sumatra, Indonesia (most likely in the rain forests). These plants follow the alternation of generation (flowering and vegetating), and considerably can survive only within favorable environments. One of the most remarkable facts about these species is the ability to produce its stink to attract the pollinators for fertilization. The odor varies upon each species. Other Amorphophallus also significantly attract attention of the public as Titan arum is capable of doing.

Amorphophallus konjac, whose names are various: devil's tongue, elephant-foot yam, snake plant, konnyaku, and so on, can be cooked as a Japanese beneficial dietary healthy food called Konnyaku although the food cannot be digested, which is comprised of healthy substances, such as vitamin A, E, D, B1, B2, B6, B 12, C, protein, water, lipids, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, copper zink, dietary fiber, etc. Certain people in Japan consume Konnyaku daily for weight loss purposes. [21]

Amorphophallus bulbifer, or Voodoo Lily, however, does not possess poor smell; but it discharges the bad smell only after few hours of full blooming for attraction of pollinators, and it is one of the most appealing flowers around; it is whitish pink. The most preferred areas are humid places with shade and shelter. This beautiful species does not flower every year. [22]

On the other hand, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius probably is the most unattractive flowers on the earth with one of the most unpleasant smell it can ever have with the name 'Elephant yam'. Fortunately, as Voodoo lily, this flower releases the smell only few hours after its full bloom and does not develop to its full opening annually. Unlike Titan arum, this species is able to remain full bloomed for 5 days. Most extraordinary information is that during the full bloom, paeoniifolius can heat up the temperature. Heated plant with the smell resembles a ‘dead animal or mammal’; thus, pull the insects toward them for fertilization. [23]

Yellow yunnan (Amorphophallus albus) grow about a meter with whitish yellow spathe, yellow spadix, and green stem. It has the ability to store energy in its corm, thus, enables them to survive throughout the dormancy, developing again in spring. In China, some of this plant reach 2 meters. [24]


Titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum

Titan arum flowering


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