Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Corpse Flower

Corpse flower or giant corpse flower can refer to either of two flowering plants:
The genus Rafflesia, which contains the species Rafflesia arnoldii, the largest single flower in the world.
The species Amorphophallus titanum, also known as the Titan arum, which has the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. The titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum (from Ancient Greek amorphos, "without form, misshapen" + phallos, "penis", and titan, "giant") is a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. The largest single flower is borne by the Rafflesia arnoldii; the largest branched inflorescence in the plant kingdom belongs to the Talipot palm (Corypha umbraculifera). It thrives at the edges of rainforests near open grasslands. Though found in many botanic gardens around the world it is still indigenous only to the tropical forests of Sumatra. Due to its fragrance, which is reminiscent of the smell of a decomposing mammal, the titan arum is also known as a carrion flower, the "Corpse flower", or "Corpse plant" (in Indonesian, "bunga bangkai" – bunga means flower, while bangkai means corpse or cadaver; for the same reason, the same title is also attributed to Rafflesia which, like the titan arum, also grows in the rainforests of Sumatra).

The titan arum's inflorescence can reach over 3 metres (almost 10 ft.) in circumference. Like the related cuckoo pint and calla lily, it consists of a fragrant spadix of flowers wrapped by a spathe, which looks like the flower's single petal. In the case of the Titan Arum, the spathe is green on the outside and dark burgundy red on the inside, and deeply furrowed. The spadix is hollow and resembles a large loaf of French bread. The upper, visible portion of the spadix is covered in pollen, while its lower extremity is spangled with bright red-orange carpels. The "fragrance" of the inflorescence resembles rotting meat, attracting carrion-eating beetles and Flesh Flies (family Sarcophagidae) that pollinate it. The flower's deep red color and texture contribute to the illusion that the spathe is a piece of meat. During bloom, the tip of the spadix is approximately human body temperature, which helps the perfume volatilize; this heat is also believed to assist in the illusion that attracts carcass-eating insects.
Both male and female flowers grow in the same inflorescence. The female flowers open first, then a day or two following, the male flowers open. This prevents the flower from self-pollinating.
After the flower dies back, a single leaf, which reaches the size of a small tree, grows from the underground corm. The leaf grows on a semi-green stalk that branches into three sections at the top, each containing many leaflets. The leaf structure can reach up to 6 m (20 ft) tall and 5 m (16 ft) across. Each year, the old leaf dies and a new one grows in its place. When the corm has stored enough energy, it becomes dormant for about 4 months. Then, the process repeats.

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