Memories of a smelly floral giant: Letter

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The Independent Online
Sir: News that Amorphophallus titanum was about to bloom at Kew Gardens (report, 30 July) reminded me of when I first heard of the world's largest flower, from a man who assisted at a similar flowering in the late 1930s.

His name was Truman Fossum, and he was born in Minot, North Dakota. After studying at Kew and a number of US universities, Truman went to work at the botanical gardens in New York City, where a titan arum corm smuggled out of Sumatra was induced to bloom. One of Truman's chores was to escort elderly patrons of the botanical gardens who wanted to see the smelly floral giant up close. The promoters of the 1939 New York World's Fair were so impressed by titan arum that they had a replica made of rubber that pneumatically opened and closed on demand.

Truman later worked for the US Department of Agriculture and other organisations, in a long, distinguished career devoted to horticultural statistics. He died a few years ago, but would have been pleased to hear of the flowering at Kew, where he was very proud to have studied.


Carleton, Yorkshire