Most of the time, I write about what I think are great landscape plants for gardeners in Mississippi to try in their landscapes. But this column is a bit different as I’m writing about a plant I don’t recommend for the home gardener.
So I ask your pardon while I turn to my alter ego as a plant nerd.
At the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville, a very unusual plant bloomed recently. Called a titan arum, this plant originates a long way from Mississippi — in Indonesia.
It has been nicknamed “Spike,” and it has the distinction of producing the largest inflorescence in the plant world. In case you were wondering, an inflorescence is a collection of many, many individual flowers.
The titan arum inflorescence is composed of a petal-like structure called a spathe that has a ruffled edge. When fully unfurled, the inside surface will become a deep burgundy. The spathe surrounds a fleshy central spike called a spadix. The male and female flowers are produced in rings at the base of the spadix.
What is phenomenal is the sheer size — the spadix can reach up to 7 feet tall. As I write this, Spike is currently 63 inches tall.
What’s so exciting is the fact that titan arums don’t flower every year, especially those in captivity or those grown in greenhouses. Spike is 9 years old, and this is the first time he has flowered.
Another interesting and pretty unusual thing about titan arum is the method it uses to attract pollinators. The flower is only going to be open for a maximum of two days, so it has to act quickly.
When the flower blooms, it will become thermogenic (generate its own heat). This heat causes organic compounds in the flower to evaporate, and the aroma is not what I would call floral at all. In fact, it smells like rotting meat, and the pollinators it attracts include flies and carrion beetles.
At this point, you can understand why there is another common name for titan arum: the corpse flower.
You can watch a video of Spike’s bloom online via the “Spike Cam” at http://extension.msstate.edu/spikecam. The research station is located at 711 W. North St. in Poplarville. Contact Gene Blythe at 601-403-8774 or Scott Langlois at 601-403-8770 for more information.
Dr. Gary Bachman is an associate Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi and hosts Southern Gardening television and radio programs.
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