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Friday, 23 July, 1999, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
The world's smelliest flower blooms
Amorphophallus titanium
Stand back - it is going to smell!
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

The world's smelliest flower has begun opening in the United States. It is a rare event that is certain to attract worldwide attention.

It is only the 11th time that the giant flower of the Amorphophallus titanium, or Titan Arum, has blossomed in the New World.

Originally from the island of Sumatra in the South China sea, the A. titanium is truly remarkable. It was discovered in 1878 and cuttings were shipped to Kew Gardens in London, UK.

It flowers very rarely and no-one knows exactly what spurs it to bud. It first did so in 1889 and since then there have been only five flowerings in the Britain and 10 in the USA.

Until earlier this week that is, when the A. titanium under cultivation at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, began to blossom.

It is the first time the flower has bloomed outdoors in cultivation.

Last Monday, delighted botanists discovered that it had developed a 106-cm flower bud. On Wednesday, when the specimen was put on display to the public, the bud had reached a height of 125 cm, and it is still growing.

Titan Arum looks spectacular and it has a smell to match. Natives in Sumatra call it the "corpse flower". The giant plant emits a sickening smell of rotting flesh to attract insects to pollinate it.

When the flower bloomed in 1878 for the first time at Kew, people fainted because of the flower's odour.

Technically, the Titan Arum does not produce one giant flower but a compound flower called an inflorescence. It lasts only a few days which, given the accompanying smell, is probably just as well.

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22 Aug 98 | Science/Nature
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