From the lush rain forests of Indonesia comes the titan arum. This plant flowers every few years, but when it does, what a sight! In 1998, a titan arum flowered at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Florida. Over 5,500 people came to see it.
The titan arum begins life as a seed. It puts out a leaf and grows a thick, fleshy root called a tuber. The single leaf can grow to be more than 15 feet high. It has a long stalk, and a lot of leaflets at the top, which makes it look like a small tree. The leaf lasts only one season. It dies, and then another one grows the next season.
Each year, the tuber gets bigger as it stores more energy for the plant. But when the tuber is big enough—maybe weighing 20-40 pounds—it puts out a special leaf called a spathe. It looks almost like an ear of corn, except this leaf will reach a height of around six feet. The base of the spathe is very thick, like the rind on a watermelon.
When the leaf opens, it reveals two surprises. One is that the leaf is red on the inside. The other is a tall tube called a spadix. Around the base of the spadix, almost hidden by the spathe, are rings of tiny flowers. There are around 2,000 yellow male flowers, and around 700 purple and pink female flowers.
Scientists call the whole thing—spathe, spadix, and flowers—a compound flower, or inflorescence (IN-floor-RESS-sense).
To pollinate the flowers, insects will have to transport pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. This has to be done as soon as possible. To pull this off, the titan alum reveals one more surprise—the stinking odor of rotting flesh. This earns it another name: the corpse flower. The smell comes from a chemical reaction inside the spadix. The odor attracts insects that like to feed or lay their eggs on dead meat. Their curiosity brings them close enough to pollinate the flowers.
After only two or three days, the spathe wilts and the spadix falls over. The pollinated flowers will develop into seeds that grow into more of these amazing plants.
By producing the tallest compound flower known to man, the titan alum has earned its place in the record books. But best of all, we can think God for the titan alum’s wonderful surprises.