Botanics staff celebrate arrival of seedlings bred from world’s smelliest plant

Sadie Barber with some of the seedlings

Just 12 months since the flowering of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s (RBGE) Amorphophallus titanum, also known as the world’s smelliest plant, staff are celebrating once more with news that pollen collected from the giant bloom has resulted in 14 healthy seedlings.

After the plant had finished flowering it was carefully dissected by RBGE’s Tropical Botanist Dr Peter Wilkie. Pollen was removed and sent to the Eden Project in Cornwall where scientists used it to cross pollinate a titan arum which had just started to bloom there.

Now horticulturists at the Botanics are nurturing the seedlings which will be grown on in the Research Houses before being put out on public display.

Details of the botanical success come during Flora Malesiana 10, an international five-day symposium drawing leading scientists from around the world – although principally from the countries of Malesiana – to RBGE.

Senior horticulturist, Sadie Barber said the plants, also known as titan arum, could flower from seven years onwards, but added that the parent plant took 12 years to flower.

She said: “It is good that we have a new generation of titan arum plants which increases genetic diversity which will result in stronger plants. Keeping the plants in cultivation also aids conservation of the species.’’

The Amorphophallus titanum was the first plant of its kind to flower in Scotland. A record crowd of over 9,000 people flocked to the Garden over a weekend to see the giant flower which emits a pungent odour akin to rotting flesh to attract carrion flies and other pollinating insects.

The plant corm was gifted to RBGE in 2003 by Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, Netherlands, when it was the size of an orange. In 2010 staff at the Garden had to borrow scales from Edinburgh Zoo to weigh the corm which at an impressive £153.9kgs, smashed the existing world record of 117kgs, held by Bonn Botanic Gardens, Germany, by 36.9kgs. At the time of the weigh in it had grown from the size of an orange to measuring 952mm wide and 426mm high with a circumference of 280cm.

More work is needed to establish the conservation status of titan arum in the wild. It is currently only known from the Bukit Barisan range of mountains in West Sumatra and is classified as Vulnerable (V) on the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants.

Sumatra is part of RBGE’s ongoing research in Southeast Asia on diverse tropical plant families including the gingers (Zingiberaceae), begonias (Begoniaceae), Gesneriaceae and tropical trees in the Sapotaceae and Malvaceae.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)