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News

Amorphophallus Titanum

a botanical marvel at CPS Wintergardens

International recognition for David MillWard and his band of passionate, fervent and devoted gardeners

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Blooming of the Giant flowering plant an exciting first at Wintergardens. An estimated 10,000 people visited the Wintergardens on 1st December 2013, patiently queuing to walk past the plant in the tropical glasshouse and take photographs.

About the plant:

Technically this “flower” coined “Titan Arum” by Sir David Attenborough, is the world’s largest “unbranched inflorescence” as it contains hundreds of tiny hidden flowers. The blooming of this plant is rare the world over and thousands queued to catch a glimpse. The Titan Arum blooms only for a short while. It slowly opens in the evening, gives off a strong rotting flesh or “carion” smell in the hope of attracting pollinators, then it begins to close 24 hours later. It will likely collapse a couple of days after that.

 

THE TEAM WORK BETWEEN COUNCIL DEPARTMENTS DURING THE UNFOLDING OF THIS BOTANICAL MARVEL HAS BEEN A HIGHLIGHT FOR ME WITH STERLING SUPPORT FROM THE PARKS TEAM (THANKS JANE), COMS & MARKETING TEAMS (GREAT WORK JO), THE MEDIA TEAM (GO NIGEL) AND THE EVENTS TEAM (GREAT HELP SERENA & SUSAN). EQUALLY A HUGE THANKS TO MELANIE AND ALL THE METRO TEAM FOR THE SPLENDID JOB THAT THEY DID AND WITH SUCH A FANTASTIC POSITIVE FRIENDLY ATTITUDE, THAT WAS PICKED ON BY THE CROWD AND HELPED TO MAKE THE DAY SO VERY SPECIAL.... DAVID MILLWARD 

 

The botany and the smell

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The Titan Arum first flowered in cultivation at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1889. The stench was described by British botanist and former director of Kew Gardens Sir Joseph Hooker as smelling like “a mixture of rotting fish and burnt sugar, which turns your stomach over and makes your eyes run”. The plant is native to western Sumatra, and the Indonesian name for this plant is “bunga bangkai”, which means corpse flower. This smell attracts carrion beetles and flies for pollination. The bloom also generates heat, which helps the smell travel further. If you plan to visit this giant wonder in future bring a peg for your nose. The plant is a member of the Araceae family, which includes the calla lily.

The “bloom” has hundreds of small male florets and female flowers at the base of the spadix, which is a long, creamy yellow spike that looks a bit like a French bread stick. This is surrounded by a “spathe” (a single bract or modified leaf) which, when open, is dark crimson to brownish purple, has a frilled edge and is pale green underneath. It can grow more than 3m tall and 1.5m wide and was once imagined to be a man-eater.

Flowering is no easy feat. It can take a corm (bulb) up to 10 years to build up enough energy and size to bloom and weighs in typically at 50kg. The corm at the Wintergardens weighed approximately 50kg a couple of years before blooming and is now 7 years old. The largest to date was 117kg at the Botanic Garden of Bonn, Germany. The corm produces a large singular leaf which is branched and has lots of leaflets, giving it a tree-like appearance. Through photosynthesis, the leaf supplies sugars which become starch inside the corm. After the leaf dies back, the corm will rest for a while, then produce another leaf and the cycle continues. This process increases the size of the corm.

The Titan Arum was treated almost the same way as any plant in the Wintergarden tropical house, which reaches a humid 28° C. It was grown in free-draining potting mix with a little slow-release fertiliser. During the growing phase, the plant was fed with the same liquid food that most of the tropical plants get. It was important to keep the corm dry in its dormant phase as they are susceptible to rot and nematodes. This plant started emerging from the corm on November 11th, and the white spathe was visible by November 18th.

 In need of protection

Deforestation and the loss of natural habitat in Sumatra are major threats to the plant. Botanic gardens around the world are working hard to find effective ways to keep the species producing viable seed in case its habitat is lost entirely. Unfortunately, the demand for palm oil has meant the increased destruction of the rainforests in Indonesia and the mass planting of oil palm plantations to feed this demand. To help protect this botanical marvel, avoid products containing palm oil, and kwila timber for your decking unless it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). There was huge media interest – the highlight being a Live Newstalk interview on radio as well as a World News story with a Chinese film Company. The story was covered by 21 regional papers in New Zealand, many with photos and several horticultural magazines, TVNZ & TV3. The Chinese channel (Jianshang Pang was able to do this in Cantonese along with David in English) & reported on UK television internet videos - by Stuff.co.nz / TV3. Five radio stations did stories including live interviews with Marcus Lush.

 

City Parks Services also has depots located throughout Auckland, including Mt Wellington, Three Kings, Avondale, Kari St,  Auckland Domain and Waiheke Island.


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