The Big Event
Published: Jul 10, 2017It's big, smelly and a natural wonder - now Paignton Zoo has not one but two Titan Arums due to flower,
One of the main benefits to working in a zoo is the frequent occurrence of exciting events. I guess the most obvious examples of this are the new arrivals in the animal departments. I think back to when Helen told me that they were expecting maned wolf pups, or Jim with Rothschild’s giraffe news, or even the LVI keepers with some rare tadpoles….the excitement was easy to see.
However, all these momentous occasions pale into insignificance to the moment two weeks ago when Catherine our Head Gardener burst into my office and proudly announced that we had another Titan Arum coming into flower.
You might remember that we last had a Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) flower in the summer of 2015, (incidentally, that Titan won us gold in the BIAZA Awards for Best Horticultural Display) but this Titan has taken us by surprise.
This Titan was sown in 2005 and was off show in our tropical glasshouse when the bud broke dormancy. The team moved it into Crocodile Swamp in the anticipation of a new leaf emerging. Therefore, it was with considerable surprise that the bud showed the asymmetrical growth pattern indicative of an inflorescence rather than a new leaf.
This Titan had last been re-potted in November and the tuber weighed just 27kg at the time – a comparative baby compared to our last Titan flowering, which weighed 44kg. Titans are considered mature and thus capable of flowering once the tuber is above 15kg but at 27kg it is our lightest to date and this has led to its name of Tiny Tim, or Tiny Tim the Titan, or Lorna’s favourite: Titch. Anyone that knows Lorna will understand that disagreeing with her is a futile task.
So Tiny Tim (aka Titch) is in Crocodile Swamp and the inflorescence is due to open any day now. It has been growing at a steady average rate of 10cm per day and this morning measured 186cm high. We have had pollen sent down to us from our friends at Cambridge University Botanical Garden, stored it in our freezer and once Tiny Tim has opened, Catherine and Lorna will attempt to hand pollinate it. If successful this will give us the opportunity to offer seed to other botanical gardens, especially those that are members of BGCI, and of course our zoo friends in BIAZA and EAZA.
A Titan inflorescence is one of nature’s greatest botanical displays, the combination of its immense size, foul smell, and vibrant colours make it an event that you will always remember.
What could be better than this you might rightly ask? I’ll tell you. Two Titans.
Titan 2006-53/1-G (catchy name, right?) is also producing an inflorescence and was moved into Croc Swamp for public display. This Titan had flowered previously back in August 2012 and so was named Olympia. Olympia was last re-potted in March this year and weighed 56kgs, our heaviest to date. We hope the weight will reflect in the size of inflorescence and so it could well be the biggest Paignton Zoo has ever had. It currently measures 69cm and so is a couple of weeks or so behind Tiny Tim.
So in July 2017, Paignton Zoo is proud to offer two opportunities for visitors to come and experience the delights of the Titan Arum, what excuse do you have to not visit? None. You have no excuse at all. Which one do I favour the most? Well, they are both sure to be fine specimens but everyone knows that good things come in small packages so I’m rooting for Tiny Tim.
Giles Palmer, Curator of Plants and Gardens