Published: Jun 15, 2015I’ve been at Paignton Zoo for a little over a year now and still get a kick out of the huge range of plants we grow here.
I’ve been at Paignton Zoo for a little over a year now and still get a kick out of the huge range of plants we grow here. Of course, all plants are special and have their own place, but there are some plants that are just so inspiring it is an absolute privilege to get to work. Perhaps none more so than the Titan arum, Amorphophallus titanium – and I am delighted to say that we have one just about to flower any day now.
The Titan is native to Sumatra and we are fortunate that our tropical glasshouses provide appropriate humid conditions to cultivate this fascinating plant. Even so, it’s not an easy challenge. The Titan produces a tuber from which a single leaf grows; the leaf is kept between 9 and 24 months before dying back down. There then follows a period of dormancy for approximately 3 to 6 months. After dormancy either another leaf will be produced or – fingers crossed – a flower.
It can take over 10 years before a flower is produced and the tuber must weigh at least 15kg.
The Titan coming into flower was last potted in November and then weighed 44kg.
Technically it’s an inflorescence with a spathe and spadix rather than a flower but let’s not get hung up on that. The flower is famous not only for its rarity and enormous size, but also because of the foul odour it produces. This odour is to attract beetles and other insects that would act as pollinators in the wild.
We have four Titan arums in total and they are looked after by Lorna, our Nurserywoman, and Catherine, our Head Gardener. Much of the Titan’s life is spent in our off show tropical glasshouse but we move them into Crocodile Swamp when they come into leaf or flower so that our visitors get to appreciate the scale and beauty of this wonderful plant.
We have now moved this Titan from the off show glasshouse to Croc Swamp where it has been placed next to a Titan that is in leaf so that visitors get to see the best that this plant offers.
It’s notoriously difficult to accurately predict when the flower will fully open, much to the frustration of us gardeners; we would rather have total control! The last Titan to flower at Paignton Zoo was in 2012 and it was unfortunate that Catherine was away sailing on a tall ship at the time. It seems so unfair that the person who cares for it day on day misses the event, but there is an air of inevitability about this happening again. It’s Catherine’s partner’s birthday this weekend and they are supposed to be going somewhere nice. Will Catherine be brave enough to cancel the trip in honour of the Titan arum…?
We are monitoring and measuring the emerging flower every day and will keep you posted as to when it will open fully. But get ready, be prepared – you really don’t want to miss this spectacular event – it’s one of nature’s finest and you can see it right here at Paignton Zoo!
Giles Palmer – Curator of Plants and Gardens – 15th June 2015