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Published July 24, 2013, 04:43 PM

Is Botanic Garden corpse plant an omen for farm bill?

As members of Congress returned to Washington, some may have stopped at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory at the bottom of Capitol Hill, where the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant, is blooming for the first time since 2007.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

As members of Congress returned to Washington, some may have stopped at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory at the bottom of Capitol Hill, where the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant, is blooming for the first time since 2007.

The blooming of a corpse plant at the Botanic Garden could be considered a bad omen for the farm bill, but farmers see a bloom as a sign of success. Perhaps equally important, the Botanic Garden is directly below the House, where the fate of the farm bill will be determined.

The description of the titan arum on the website of the Botanic Garden makes the plant sound much like the farm bill.

“The titan arum does not have an annual blooming cycle,” the website says.”The time between flowering is unpredictable, which can span from a few years to a few decades.”

Other aspects of the plant’s cycle may also remind farm bill participants of the atmosphere needed for a full bloom.

“The magic of the titan arum comes from its great size — it is reputed to have the largest known unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom,” the website says.

“Referred to as the corpse flower or stinky plant, its putrid smell is most potent during peak bloom at night into the early morning. The odor is often compared to the stench of rotting flesh. The inflorescence also generates heat, which allows the stench to travel further. This combination of heat and smell efficiently attracts pollinators, such as dung and carrion beetles, from across long distances.”

The titan arum is native to the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, and was discovered by western scientists in 1878. The Botanic Garden notes that the plant requires very special conditions, including warm day and night temperatures and high humidity, which makes the garden well suited to support this strange plant outside of its natural range.

In the wild, the plant is pollinated when a bug or beetle takes a male part of the blooming plant to the female part of another blooming plant. The Botanic Garden has only one blooming plant so pollination will not occur. The arum titan’s natural habitat is being threatened by the spread of palm oil plantations, a Botanic Garden official said.

In its non-blooming state, the arum titan produces a canopy of leaves. When it has gathered enough energy, it blooms instead of producing leaves, a Botanic Garden official said.

It fully opened on Sunday, but only remains in bloom for 24 to 48 hours, and then collapses quickly.

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