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Adelaide, SA, 5000
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Magic at Mount Lofty as Corpse Flower Blooms

RAD LIFE

Magic at Mount Lofty as Corpse Flower Blooms

Madeleine Manglaras

Ten thousand people have queued at Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens to get a sight of the Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in bloom; a rare and foul-smelling flower that only lasts for 48 hours. 

More commonly known as the Corpse Flower due to its unique odour of rotting flesh, the Titan arum is an endangered plant species originating from Indonesia that takes eight to ten years to flower. The only one ever to be brought to flower in South Australia, it isn't a suprise that so many wanted to witness the floriculture first on Tuesday; despite a long lineup and relentless sun. 

Ten years ago, three seeds were sourced through a private donor, and plant propagation curator Matt Coulter has spent the last eight years germinating those seeds. While the other two are in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens conservatory and are in leaf, the first one to draw a crowd is the one that bloomed on Monday night at Mount Lofty

'They come from the tropical Sumatran jungle where it's really hot and really humid, so they have to be grown in glasshouses here', says curator of the Rhododendron collection, Scott Foubister, as we wait to step inside. 

‘They’re rare in the wild, but they do exist in a lot of botanic gardens around the world. This is the first time ever one’s been brought to flower in South Australia, so Matt’s done something really incredible’. 

'Matt propagates for the whole of the botanic gardens: Mount Lofty, Adelaide, and Wittunga Botanic Gardens. This nursery is the facility for all of our sites, so all of our propagation happens here', says Scott. 

Growing on a giant corm that weighs between twenty to twenty five kilos, the thing is huge, with the actual flower coming from the base of the plant. Scott explains that this is where the ovaries are, and that the flower needs to be pollenated by another Titan arum of the opposite sex for the ovaries to turn into seeds.

‘Because it won’t get pollenated, this plant will now flower once every two years, instead of dying like a pollenated flower does'.

Now, if that isn’t an advertisement for staying single, I don’t know what is.   

The pointy stalk, called the spadix, is a green-yellow colour, while the leaves are a light green and the flower itself: a deep purple. While we can’t confirm that it actually smells like rotting flesh, it definitely doesn’t smell pleasant: like something that’s been left in the fridge way longer than it should.

It’s been a long wait for Matt, but the volume of appreciation exhibited for his hard work is one of the many reasons why the wait is worth it.

‘Only about two weeks ago could we be a hundred percent sure it was going to flower', says Matt.

‘From now on we should get a flower every two to three years that lasts two days. Because it’s so hot today, it’s starting to wilt already. The spadix will collapse and then the whole plant will start to droop'. 

'We have one of the biggest collections in the world of this plant; from the original three seeds, we now have more than a hundred plants. We'll give them to other botanic gardens but we can't sell them, as they're an endangered species'. 

'The main reason we did it is so that in the future we can have more flowers to show the public, rather than making people wait ten years. In seven years time we should have a flower to display every year'. 

While the evolution of society leaves its unforgiving marks on Mother Nature, it’s a miracle that she’s still willing to gift us with fleeting wonders of the natural Earth, such as the Titan arum. It’s people like Matt and Scott, their passion of plants, and their dedication to preserving natural beauty, that the world needs more of. 

To summarise the event by quoting an impressed observer, it really was 'bloody magnificent'.

We thank our four-leaf clovers for VIP access. 

We thank our four-leaf clovers for VIP access. 

The entrance to the glasshouse: so close, you can smell it. 

The entrance to the glasshouse: so close, you can smell it. 

Propagation curator Matt Coulter and curator of the Rhododendron collection, Scott Foubister. 

Propagation curator Matt Coulter and curator of the Rhododendron collection, Scott Foubister. 

Up close and personal with the corpse. 

Up close and personal with the corpse. 

                         Illustration by Owen Fisher     

                         Illustration by Owen Fisher     

All images via Madeleine Manglaras.