The stinky smell of success of Ted the Titan: a tale from Chemical & Engineering News

Ted the Titan stinks like rotting meat, but that's a good thing for Ted, anyway.

Also known as Amorphophallus titanium (or titan arum) and "corpse flower," Ted is a bizarre plant that attracts flies, instead of bees, with its unsavory odor and the insects pollinate it, reports Chemical & Engineering News in its June 30 issue. C&EN is the weekly newsmagazine published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Ted is no shrinking violet. It can extend nearly nine feet high. But it produces a bloom only every few years and that bloom stays around only for a day or so. Nearly 1,000 people witnessed the plant's short-lived performance last week at the University of California, Davis, C&EN reports. Originally, the plant was discovered in Sumatra.

"We've had two people gagging already," Ernesto Sandoval, the Davis conservatory's curator cheerfully reported, shortly after the group gathered for the historic event. As the aroma described by some as like rotten eggs laid by a decaying chicken in a clogged drainpipe-wafted through the hall, several other people began gagging, according to C&EN.

The precise chemistry of Ted's odor hasn't really been explained as yet, but some scientists have some strong suspicions. UC Davis plant biology professor Terence M. Murphy says tests on other related plants reveal compounds that have a characteristic rotting meat smell, such as dimethyl trisulfide. And they also have detected amines in related plants with such names as putrescine and cadaverine, which also are produced by rotting meat.

UC Davis entomology professor Bruce D. Hammock says he hopes to solve the mystery soon. He says he realized no one was doing chemical analyses of the plant so he and some colleagues are running a series of tests, the newsmagazine says. They're still waiting for the results, but as Hammock puts it: "my nose as a chemist tells me [the compou

Contact: Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society

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