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The autumn winds have brought down the lurid, neon-green, curiously wrinkled fruits of the Osage orange...
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Titan Arum opens!

The titan arum has opened, revealing its crimson interior to the delight of visitors.
Staff at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden have confirmed that the titan arum has opened. Over 7000 visitors have visited the Garden since the arum began opening on Saturday evening.

Professor Beverley Glover, Director of the Botanic Garden, said:

We are so excited by the spectacle and stink of a corpse flower from the Indonesian rainforests flowering in Cambridge, and thrilled by the number of visitors who have come along to see it at the Garden.

Flowering is a rare event, last happening at the Botanic Garden over a decade ago. When the creamy nose of the flowering structure emerged on 6 July it took staff by surprise as the tuber from which it grows is well below the normal flowering weight of 15kg. Alex Summers, Glasshouse Supervisor, adds:

We’ve dubbed this one ‘Tiny’ as according to the books it’s too small to be flowering at all!

The titan arum (botanical name - Amorphophallus titanum) produces one of the largest single flowering structures in the world, which lasts for around two to three days only. The dramatic structure is not actually a flower at all, but an inflorescence, comprising a central, spike-like spadix, surrounded by a frilly, funnel-shaped spathe. At its base, the spathe, really a highly modified leaf which has now turned blood red on full flowering, forms a protective chamber enclosing thousands of actual flowers.

When the flowers are ready for pollination, the spadix produces a series of chemical reactions to heat up – a process known as thermogenesis. As night falls, temperatures in the middle of the structure can reach 40˚C - higher than human body temperature. The heat helps to distribute sulphurous compounds – the atrocious stench – across vast distances in its native Sumatra to lure its pollinators, thought to be carrion beetles and blow flies. Beetles and flies dusted with pollen from another titan arum plant may pollinate the tiny female flowers clustered at the base of the spadix as they search (in vain) for the rotting meat.

The stink, which comes in pulses through the night, has been described as like ‘rotten eggs’, ‘dead donkey’, ‘dirty laundry’ and ‘smelly feet’. Professor Glover is urging visitors to share their experiences:

We would love to know how our visitors’ noses react and are asking them to tweet their descriptions of the smell to @CUBotanicGarden using #tinytitan

The titan arum is now very rare in its native rainforest habitat on the Indonesian island of Sumatra due to deforestation for logging and clearance for palm oil plantations. It is classified as ‘vulnerable’ to extinction.

Tiny will be in full bloom for two nights only and is then expected to collapse. The Garden was open on Saturday and Sunday nights for late night viewing sessions but opening hours return to normal (10am - 6pm) today as the flower starts to fade. Visitors who cannot get to see Cambridge’s titan arum in real life can share in the spectacle on-line via the live webcam via the link to the left!

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