Titan VanCoug bloomed June 29 – 30. It’s corm cloned years ago, and today four plants reside in one pot. At the time of this bloom, you could see a leaf, fruit from the 2022 bloom and the 2023 bloom, which is quite unusual. A second leaf sprouted just about the time of the bloom.
Titan VanCoug bloomed for a second time Aug. 16, 2022. To see photos, visit WSU Vancouver’s Flickr site.
Titan VanCoug was successfully pollinated during its second bloom. To help fruit grow, remnants of the bloom were trimmed away to expose the plant’s fruit-producing spadix. Caretakers prevented mold growth on the spadix by treating it with a vinegar mixture. Each “berry” produces two seeds. Seeds have been harvested and will be shared with other universities and conservatories.
Video and photos
Titan VanCoug bloomed for the first time July 15, 2019. The event brought about 20,000 visitors to campus for a look and a sniff. Although the flower was successfully pollinated, the fruit molded and no seeds were harvested.
About Titan VanCoug
Titan VanCoug was planted by Professor Emeritus Steve Sylvester. He planted a seed from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s titan arum plant, affectionately named Big Bucky, in 2002. He cultivated it in a pot on his desk until it grew too large to contain in such a small space. It has grown in a stairwell in the Science and Engineering Building for some time.
A late bloomer at 17, Titan VanCoug’s first bloom in July 2019 was most likely delayed because its corm (tuber) cloned itself. Corpse flowers put up only one leaf at a time. The pot that contains Titan VanCoug has had as many as four leaves showing at once, evidence that four separate corms are growing together in one pot.
Sylvester retired as associate professor of molecular biosciences in 2021, leaving Instruction and Classroom Support Technician Dawn Freeman in charge of Titan VanCoug’s care. Under her watch, a second bloom occurred in August 2022.
About Dawn Freeman
WSU Vancouver alumna and Classroom Support Technician Dawn Freeman manages the support team for undergraduate science labs. She worked closely with Sylvester and took an interest in the corpse flower. This is its second bloom under Freeman’s care.
About Steve Sylvester
For more than 36 years Professor Emeritus Steve Sylvester taught a variety of science classes related to the environment and health. Although cultivating Titan VanCoug was not part of Sylvester’s formal research agenda, he said he found it an interesting pursuit.
Frequently asked questions
Amorphophallus titanum (aka titan arum)
Commonly called a corpse flower or corpse plant
It is native to the limestone hills of Sumatra, Indonesia’s rainforests, the only place in the world where it naturally grows.
It is among the world’s largest and rarest flowering structures. The bloom of a titan arum is typically 6 to 8 feet tall (the largest on record was just over 10 feet tall). It emits a foul odor similar to that of rotting flesh, thus the name corpse flower. These plants are uncommon in cultivation and blooms are even rarer—typically after 7 to 10 years of growth and just once every 4 or so years afterward throughout a 40-year expected lifespan. The plant also produces the largest leaf in the world, reaching 15 to 20 feet.
After the seed germinates, a small leaf grows from an underground tuber. After 12 – 18 months, the leaf dies back and the plant goes into dormancy for 3 – 6 months. When a new bud appears, the emerging leaf will be larger than the previous leaf. Meanwhile, the tuber below ground continues to grow, too. The plant goes through many dormancy/leaf cycles throughout its life. On the rare occasion, instead of a leaf emerging from the dormant tuber, a bloom emerges instead.
The odor is meant to attract pollinators and help ensure the continuation of the species. Dung beetles, flesh flies and other carnivorous insects that typically eat dead flesh or lay their eggs in rotting meat are attracted to the titan arum. In Sumatra, the bloom can be located by smell from up to 50 yards away. Sometimes it is so strong people can’t stand to be near it.
Titan arum blooms quickly—just 24 – 48 hours after the spathe, or sheath, opens. The spadix—the central floral spike—collapses after three to five days.
If the flower has successfully pollinated, the surrounding spathe eventually falls off, exposing maturing seeds. When ripe, the seeds turn a bright orange-red, which attracts birds that pick them, eat the flesh and discard the "pit" or seed. In this way, the plant is dispersed.
Titan arum is a member of the family araceae, the aroids or arum plants. Other members of this family are the anthuriums, calla lilies, philodendrons and dieffenbachia.