The world’s largest unbranched inflorescence in the world dazzled members at Weld Hill

The world’s largest unbranched inflorescence —the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) or corpse plant from Sumatra in Indonesia—bloomed at the Arnold Arboretum over a 48-hour period beginning the evening of Saturday, June 22. A phenomenon that may take 7 to 12 years to occur, the corpse plant inflorescence emerged 11 years after planting in the Arboretum’s research greenhouses. Arboretum members were invited to visit the plant and experience its aroma—a volatile combination of chemicals that smell like rotting meat to attract the carrion-feeding beetles and flies that serve as its pollinators—at two viewing events on June 23 and 24.

Arnold Arboretum director William (Ned) Friedman at left talks to Arboretum members about the corpse plant in the Weld Hill greenhouses
Director William (Ned) Friedman (at left) talks about the titan arum with Arboretum members during the plant’s brief period of bloom that began the evening of June 22 at the Weld Hill Research Building.

This marks the first time a corpse plant bloomed at the Arboretum. Although the inflorescence of a corpse plant may attain a size of 8 or more feet in height, this plant’s inaugural inflorescence topped out at just about 5 feet tall. The plant has since finished its bloom period, and the inflorescence has faded and will go dormant.

“Collecting, preserving, and studying living plants from around the world is what makes the Arnold Arboretum such a rich environment for scientists, students, and the public to learn more about the natural world,” said William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. “The titan arums we grow are part of a global conservation effort for a threatened species—but they are also truly magnificent organisms that manage one of the most audacious and spectacular feats of the botanical world. We hope that by connecting people to remarkable plants like this titan arum that they come away with a better idea of why all biodiversity is valuable and worth protecting.”

The plant is held as part of a teaching collection of plants curated for education and research in the Arboretum’s Weld Hill Research Building. It was acquired as seed from Ohio State University, and is part of a conservation project by plant researchers and botanical gardens to help conserve and diversify the genetics of this rare and endangered species. A second titan arum at the Arboretum is currently in its vegetative state, displaying an enormous single leaf that looks like a small tree. This individual was planted at the same time as the plant that just bloomed, so its first bloom period remains eagerly awaited by staff.

Learn answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about the titan arum and this individual in our greenhouses. Read more in the Boston Globe.

View a time lapse video below of the corpse plant opening in the Weld Hill greenhouses.