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Baby on Board: Titan arum

What do you get when you cross one of the world’s most foul-smelling plants with another purely putrid-scented plant? 

The world will soon find out. Audrey and Seymour – Selby Gardens’ two corpse plants – are having babies. Lots and lots of babies.

In summer 2016 when Selby Gardens played host to the rare double blooming of the two corpse plants, scientifically known as Amorphophallus titanum, the horticulture team was presented the unique opportunity to cross pollinate the plants.

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Each individual plant has an inflorescence that carries both male and female flowers. In nature, insects assist with pollinating one plant with another, but a sharing of the pollen under cultivation is far less common.

When the first plant – Seymour – opened its spathe in late July, pollen was collected from the male flowers and refrigerated. At the start of August with the six-foot-tall Audrey in bloom, a window was cut into the plant’s outer sheath to view the internal flowers. The horticulture team took Seymour’s pollen out of the fridge and applied it using a paintbrush to the female flowers. The next day the plant’s  spadix appeared floppy at the top, which was thought to indicate a successful pollination. We just had to wait six months and see.

“The process created fruit on the plant, known as an infructescence, which have now matured, and we are in the process of harvesting, cleaning and sowing the seeds that came from the fruit,” said Angel Lara, Assistant Director of Horticulture at Selby Gardens.

Lara said it will still take at least five months to germinate and a few years to see if any of the seeds deliver yet another titan. The rare plants from Sumatra are infamous for their putrid scent, which has been described as similar to rotting fish or sweaty socks. While this plant usually only blooms every seven to ten years, Seymour and Audrey have bloomed every two years for the past six years, and almost always at the same time. Lara’s team has suggested a plant love story to explain their synchronized blooms.

As for a name of the progeny, we will have to wait and see what the little ones smell, or, look like. Stay tuned!