Death smelling plant set to flower in Scotland

Sadie Barber with the Titan Arum. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Sadie Barber with the Titan Arum. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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AN exotic plant that gives off a stench like rotting corpses ranks among the city’s more unusual tourist attractions.

But if the Titan Arum flowers for the first time in Scotland, visitors are expected to flock to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in their thousands to catch a glimpse – and a whiff.

And excitement is growing almost as fast as the plant itself, which has seen a growth spurt of eight centimetres every day.

Experts have been keeping a close eye on the 13-year-old plant, which only produces its distinctive bloom every seven to ten years, and then for just 
48 hours.

Staff still do not know whether the bud will produce a flower or a leaf, though horticulturist Sadie Barber said it “looked a bit leafy”. However, she refused to rule out the possibility it could flower for the first time “by the end of this week or the beginning of next”.

She added: “You look at the corm [the underground stem it grows from] and ask, ‘Is it big enough?’ and, ‘Is it ready?’. The answer to that is, ‘Yes it is’.

“However, it was also ready five years ago. It’s very difficult to predict and there are all kinds of reasons why it might not have flowered.

“It could be the Scottish light levels or the temperatures. It’s such a guessing game.”

Meanwhile, staff at the visitor centre have sought advice from Switzerland to cope with a surge in visitor numbers that a flowering of the Titan Arum would bring.

Last September, more than 25,000 visitors came to see the plant bloom in Basel’s botanical garden, while a similar flowering in Melbourne, Australia, attracted crowds of 10,000 people. A spokeswoman from the RBGE confirmed that “additional stewards” would be drafted in, while extra sales points for tickets would be opened if the plant blooms in the coming days.

However, visitors would not have to pay more than the standard £5 for adults and £4 for concessions to enter to the glasshouse.

The plant, Amorphophallus titanum – which translates as “misshapen penis” – has been nicknamed “New Reekie” by 
Botanics staff.

The brief bloom is followed by a “stench” phase when the plant releases powerful odours designed to attract pollinators such as beetles.

It is one of five plants of the same species at the visitor attraction, but this is the oldest.

In its 12 years at the Botanics, the corm has produced seven leaves, the tallest of which was nearly 14ft.

The seed was originally sown in the Netherlands in 2002 and RBGE received the corm in 2003, which was then about the size of an orange. The last time the corm was measured, in 2010, it weighed 153.9kg, making it the largest ever recorded.

The plant is native to the rainforests of western Sumatra, Indonesia, where it grows in openings and on limestone hills and has been classified as “vulnerable” due to habitat loss.