Bizarre Plants: Amorphophallus Titanum

Amorphophallus titanum
Credit: U.S. Government
Here at That is Bizarre, we have posted some interesting plants, from those with grenade like seed action to those that reek of carcasses. Amorphophallus titanum is another of those plants that smell awful, but that is not the only bizarre aspect of it. From its size to its name, it is quite the bizarre plant. In Sumatra, where it is endemic, it is known simply as "Bunga Bunkai." Nothing too bizarre there, but its Latin name mentioned above translates to "giant misshapen penis." It seems some people think this plant looks like a malformed sexual organ. It really does not, but we still love the name.

Amorphophallus titanum starts out as a root tuber that can weigh up to 200 pounds. From this tuber grows a plant that looks like a huge unshucked ear of corn. This part of the plant can grow up to several inches in a single day and some say can grow up to 10 feet, though it certainly can grow more than six. Once the plant is ready to bloom, it does so at night and it smells nasty. Some compare the stench to rotting meat. It also gets extraordinarily hot at this point and emits steam.

Once the spathe spreads (like a flower petal blooming), it can be up to four feet in diameter. The smell it omits is not to attract prey, but rather to pollinate. The male "flower" traps insects by closing its spathe around them. Next, it sticks pollen all over the hapless bugs. When it is done, it sets the bug free. Later, the bug will pollinate female Amorphophallus titanum. The male and female flowers of the plant open at different times, presumably to prevent same plant or male plant pollination. Once the female is fertilized, she produces red olive-sized fruits and dies within days.

The death of the female plant does not spell the end of Amorphophallus titanum. The root tuber grows a single leaf that eventually grows into an up to 20-foot tall plant that looks like a tree, but is not classified as such. At the top of the "tree," the resulting leaf blooms can be up to 16 feet around. It is not quite as eye catching as the green ear of corn that blooms into a burgundy and green flower, but it is life and it continues the cycle of the Amorphophallus titanum so it can produce stinky flowers again later.