Sunday, July 6, 2008

Amorphophallus Update, July 6

68 inches (173 cm), 1 inch taller than yesterday.

You would think that you'd need access to an institutional-scale tropical greenhouse to raise your own Amorphophallus titanum to flowering. You'd probably be right. Seedlings or small plants from tissue culture are not all that hard to come by, and seem to go for about $50 to $100. The Huntington has had them for sale in the past, for example, and caveat emptors can usually scare up some offers on EBay (OMG Ultra Rair!!11! HUGE bulbz!). But, getting a mail order seedling up to mature size is not a trivial matter. I've known a number of enthusiastic windowsill growers and hobby greenhouse owners who have tried raising their own Titan, but have yet to hear of any big stinky blooms in someone's living room. One of the smallest facilities that I'm aware of that has succeeded is just the next town over from me in Willimantic, Ct, at Eastern Connecticut State University, where Prof. Ross Koning maintains a modestly-sized hoop house style greenhouse. Fevzi Zeren of New Jersey seems to have succeeded in coaxing a flower from a specimen grown under lights in a basement (one assumes a big basement, and the sort of light setup that earns you periodic visits from the constabulary), though he apparently started with a nearly mature corm.

Corpse Flowers aren't too difficult to please, given a warm, humid, brightly-lit space of sufficient size. Space is usually going to be the limiting factor for a plant with individual leaves 15 feet across and more than one story tall. Other than that, we use a rich, well-drained soilless potting mix, with a bit of lime added, and feed fairly heavily with human blood a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Ideally, temperatures shouldn't drop below 65 F (18 C), and humidity should stay above 50-60%, though I know for sure that conditions become less tropical than that on a regular basis here at the somewhat antiquated UConn biology greenhouses. The soil should be kept evenly moist at all times, even when the corm is dormant, and the pot should be as big as is practical (the pot for the plant at UConn is cramped, but it's the largest size that can be moved through our doors if need be). The plants need bright light, but leaves can scorch in direct, unfiltered sun. The growth of the plants seems to be only very loosely tied to the seasons: they can have leaves and be actively growing at any time of the year. At least in botanical gardens in temperate climates, though, there seems to be a strong tendency for flowers to bloom in early summer.

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