Giant bloom fades, science continues

The corpse flower that bloomed at the University of California, Davis, Botanical Conservatory last week is now fading. Ted the Titan, a specimen of Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum), will rest until producing a leaf, or perhaps another huge flower, next year. But the brief blooming brought a flurry of experiments from UC Davis biologists eager to take advantage of the rare event. And if you missed the stinky spectacle, you can still order a T-shirt.

Ted's flower reached a modest height of 43 inches. Titan arum flowers may reach a height of 6 feet, with a recent bloom in Bonn, Germany, setting a record of nearly 9 feet in height. But the flower lasted longer than expected, opening on Monday, June 9, and fading the following week.

"We may not have had the largest flower, but we're the longest lasting," said conservatory curator Ernesto Sandoval.

Others were marveling at the endurance of Sandoval's voice, as he spent the past week telling a stream of visitors about the plant from early morning to late at night. Sandoval estimated that about a thousand people visited the greenhouse on Tuesday, June 10, with hundreds more on Wednesday and Thursday.

The flower produced wafts of its distinctive roadkill scent throughout, but was at its most pungent in the first few hours of blooming.

Monday night's blooming, which was earlier than expected, set scientists scrambling to set up equipment.

"I was passing the greenhouse, and it seemed like an interesting opportunity," said toxicologist Bruce Hammock. Hammock and postdoctoral researcher Katja Dettmer collected air samples from around the plant that they will analyze to pin down the source of Ted's perfume.

"There are some interesting issues, such as where the smell comes from," said plant biologist Terry Murphy, who said he had been "agitating other people to do things" once he heard the flower was blooming.

Ken Shackel, a professor of pomology, set up temperatur

Contact: Andy Fell
University of California - Davis

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