Penis plant in bloom in Ghent Botanical Garden
UPDATE FRIDAY 24 JUNE 4 P.M.: THE BLOOM HAS STARTED
THE BOTANICAL GARDEN WILL BE OPEN ON FRIDAY EVENING 24/06 AND SATURDAY EVENING 25/04 UNTIL 9.30 PM!
Fantastic news... with a smell. A Giant Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is blooming in the Greenhouses of the Botanic Garden. This exceptional plant, better known as Penis Plant or Corpse Plant, only begins to flower after 10 years. After that, the plant will flower a little more regularly (every three years). This flower, named Elise, was last in bloom in 2019. So she came back quite soon to take a look.
In recent years, the Ghent Botanical Garden was so lucky as to have several Penis plants in bloom. The flowers are always a big crowd-puller. Not least because they also smell quite pungent at the peak of their flowering. Elise is a relatively 'small specimen'. Not nearly the size of the big fellow that is currently in bloom at the Botanical Garden of Meise. But, as you can see in our exhibition 'PHALLUS. Norm & Form': 'Size doesn't matter'.
In the meantime, Elise has undergone a serious grow spurth in the last few days and she now measures 170 cm. She has started flowering since Friday afternoon. You can follow her development closely in the greenhouses of the Botanic Garden during opening hours and via the livestream on our website.
GUM was hoping for a Penis plant to bloom in the context of the special exhibition PHALLUS. Norm & Form. Such a bloom did not announce itself for this year. The arrival of Elise is a big surprise.
Endangered stinking plant with a story
Fifteen years ago, the Ghent Botanical Garden received a few seedlings of the famous titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), grown from fruits that had been sent from Sumatra.
For about five years, these plants have been flowering regularly. The life cycle involves rest periods. During each resting stage, the tuber is removed from the soil, measured, weighed, disinfected, and then placed back in a larger pot. After a number of weeks or months, one new leaf appears, which lives for several months. Through photosynthesis, the tuber stores sugars, allowing it to double in weight during each growth phase.
After a few days we see an unusual shape, which is different to the common leaves. Our ‘Titaantje’ (Little Titan) bloomed for the first time in 2016, but the flowering bulb (spadix) did not fully develop. We are curious to see whether this will be the case now.
The flowering of the titan arum takes place across two evenings. On the first evening the female flowers bloom, and on the second evening it's the turn of the male flowers. However, these flowers are hidden by the large purple bract (spathe) that surrounds the lower half of the flowering bulb.
Like many species in this family, the titan arum is pollinated by flies. To attract these pollinators, the flowering bulb produces a piercing stench, which is often described as the smell of rotting fish. To spread this odour better, the plant produces heat. During flowering, this heat production is monitored with an infrared camera.
A mythical plant
The titan arum is an inhabitant of the tropical rainforest. The species is threatened by logging and the establishment of oil plantations in its area of origin (Sumatra). Local farmers are terrified of the plant, which, according to myth, is dangerous. So they destroy it if it appears in their fields.
Fortunately, the titan arum survives in many botanical gardens, where it regularly blooms.