Amorphophallus titanum at the Conservatory of Flowers

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Conservatory

May 29-June 2, 2005

Background and Description

Amorphophallus titanum, also known at the Titan Arum or Bunga Bakai ("Corpse Flower"), produces the largest flowering structure in the world. To a fan of weird-ass plants, it is irresistible. I can't grow it, as I have neither the conditions, nor the space (the leaf on a mature specimen is the size of a small tree). I can, and do grow a smaller relative, Amorphophallus konjac - Voodoo Lily, which is much easier and smaller, indeed, A. konjac will grow outdoors in San Francisco, although I've never seen it flower. My original specimen that flowered was grown on a sheltered sunny porch in the Castro District.

At the end of May, 2005, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park announced that they would be displaying a plant (on loan from UC-Davis). I made a few visits, seeing it in bud, bloom and withering. For further information, the link to the Conservatory above has plenty of detail (if it stops working, or gets updated to something new, let me know). At full bloom the spathe was nearly five feet tall, and more than four feet across. The smell was surprisingly mild...on the level of a dead rat under a greenhouse bench, compared to the dead mouse my A konjac produced in my apartment (almost identical to dead mouse, in fact).

Bud - In bud

Open - In bloom

closed - Withering

Towards the end of the linked image page, there are two more Amorphophallus species displayed, my A. konjac in bloom, and A. bulbifer from my brother's nursery (which sells the Voodoo Lily, although shipping season is over til fall). In terms of hardiness, small bulbs of A. konjac will overwinter in North Carolina, although the large corms won't survive winter outside. The growth cycle is: production of a single large leaf in the spring, which feeds the growth of the corm, abrupt collapse of the leaf in the fall (turns into much and slime in a few days) along with the separation of the bulblets, and dormancy. If the plant flowers, it does it while the corm is otherside dormant, sans roots or leaves. The flower similarly collapses, unless it is fertilized, in which case a large cluster of red berries is produced.

Culture

Your best bet for growing A. titanum is a large (20' x 20' x 20') heated greenhouse. And a lot of patience, they take 6-10 years to reach blooming size under good conditions. Seedlings or small bulblets are also fairly expensive, if not terribly difficult to find.

If you can settle for the Voodoo Lily, with a flower structure up to two feet tall, on a three foot stalk, any protected sunny site with continuous moisture will do. They grow faster where it is warm, and the soil is fertile, so one in a garden in the Outer Sunset would take many years to reach blooming size, where one in a prime site in Palo Alto could bloom in three years! They are probably better for pot culture, both to avoid large corms rotting in the winter, and to avoid the overcrowding and thickets that occur if the copious bulblets are not removed each year. My practice is to let the pot dry out completely after the leaf dies, dump the whole thing out on newspapers and separate out the main corm, the bulblets and the soil. The corm and bulblets can be stored anywhere away from sunlight and temperature extremes. When they show signs of growth (swelling buds) they can be planted again. I used to keep my main corm on my desk at work.

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Amorphophallus titanum at the Conservatory of Flowers / Robert Parks / rparks@lvhot.org / revised June '05