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Smelly Titan arum ready to bloom at Paignton Zoo

The latest Titan arum is ready to bloom at the charity zoo and, while it’s not the biggest, it could be among the latest ever to flower.

Photo courtesy the Zoo Paignton Zoo Head Gardener Catherine Mortimer said: “In the UK they almost always flower between May and September, so late October is definitely a surprise. We knew this was a flower bud, though, and not just a stalk – they look the same, but there are subtle differences. We’ve become pretty good at telling the difference.”

Halloween would be the perfect time for it to bloom. Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) blooms can be up to 3 metres high and 3 metres in circumference and smell like rotting meat. American scientists have found that the smell includes chemicals found in limburger cheese, rotting fish, and sweaty socks. Zoo experts think it may bloom between Halloween and Fireworks Night.

The plant's increasing weight has been watched and recorded by its attentive horticultural carers. In 2015 the corm or tuber was under 2 kilos; when it was re-potted in 2016 it had grown to 17 kilos.

It was last re-potted in May this year, and that’s when it weighed in at 24 kilos, with a height of 19 centimetres and a width of 43 centimetres. It is tiny compared to previous Paignton Zoo Titans, which have weighed between 44 kilos and 56 kilos. Even so, it's now the weight of two gold bars.

In 2012, Paignton Zoo was the first zoological collection in the UK to have a Titan arum bloom. The gardens team succeeded again in 2015 and saw two more bloom in 2017. They were able to pollinate one of these and shared seeds with other zoos and botanical gardens.

2018 saw a fifth, the Zoo’s first autumn Titan, and, at over 235 centimetres, the tallest bud so far. In December last year zoo gardeners gave their colleagues at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire a Titan arum corm.

The zoo’s Curator of Plants and Gardens, Alex Brotherton, said: “Our success with Titans has been great for fostering links with other botanical organisations and gaining recognition for our horticultural efforts.”

The plant comes from the rainforests of Sumatra and is a member of the Arum family. Its conservation status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants has recently been increased from Vulnerable to Endangered.

It has one of the largest flowers in the world; the bloom – correctly, an inflorescence – is green on the outside and bright red inside with ribbed sides and a frilled edge. Due to its odour, said to be like rotting meat, it’s known as a carrion flower and has been dubbed corpse flower or corpse plant. It emits the strong smell at night to attract pollinators.

Paignton Zoo is a registered charity.

For more information go to or ring 01803 697500.

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