Foul-smelling 'corpse flower' can live on

A A A

The most malodorous flower in the world, it smells like death. And now scientists have discovered a way for it to propagate all by itself.

The most malodorous flower in the world, it smells like death. And now scientists have discovered a way for it to propagate all by itself.

That would seem to be bad news all round, but researchers at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, southern California, are besides themselves with glee. For the Amorphophallus titanum or titan arum is both a botanical rarity and, despite its nickname of the "corpse flower", a sure-fire hit with the public. When the spiky flowers of the giant bloomed last August, not only did thousands of people rush to see it and breathe in its foul aroma - much as they did in Britain when a titan arum flowered at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, west London, in 1996 - it also allowed researchers indulge in a little artificial insemination.

John Trager, curator of the Huntington's desert collection and a specialist in "handpollination", came up with an ingenious method to overcome the fact that the plant's male and female parts mature at different times. To hasten the production of male pollen, he removed pollen-producing anthers and kept them, next to a bag of rotting apples. The ethylene from the apples stimulated the pollen, which he then applied to the female flowers.

At first, the new fruit showed little sign of developing. "Then, a few weeks ago, some of the fruits started to swell beyond size of the others - first orange, then bright red," Dr Trager reported.

Huntington is hailing this as a breakthrough, and a way of guaranteeing the survival of the titan arum outside its native habitat in Sumatra. But experts at Kew are not so sure. "The whole reason the flower spikes mature at different times is to avoid self-pollination because plants don't want to inbreed," said Peter Boyce, of the Kew herbarium.

He suggested self-pollination was a waste of time and that the real trick was to have one plant pollinate another. Kew, he pointed out, had managed that with the help of pollen collected from a titan arum in Bonn. Huntington's experiment, he added, had garnered only a half-dozen viable pollen seeds, while experts in Bonn had produced hundreds.

Does something stink at Huntington besides the corpse flower? "We'd like to foster cooperation rather than competition," Dr Trager insisted. But the plant kingdom, it seems, is a surprisingly treacherous place.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why