It happens maybe only once a decade and lasts about 24 hours. The bloom of the rare and gigantic Titan arum, better known as the “corpse flower.” It’s a mimic. It copies the stench of dead, rotting animals. But hold up. What you’re looking at isn’t actually
the flower. That part? It’s a modified leaf called the spathe. It even looks like raw meat. And this is the spadix. It heats up, like a mammal’s body … so
warm, it steams. It’s all meant to attract its pollinators,
insects that lay their eggs on fresh carcasses. But the flowers? They’re way down in here. Each of these is a male flower. And below are the female ones. With just hours to reproduce, the stakes are high for titan arum. It would be easy if it could reproduce using its own pollen. But the plant needs fresh genetic material
– pollen from other corpse flowers – to make these, the fruit and seeds that eventually will become healthy new plants. So it staggers things. The female flowers are ready first. They get sticky. The plant sends out its powerful stench, more than 30 chemicals in all. Some are nice. The spathe releases a jasmine smell. But mostly, it smells like funky cheese, rotting garlic, or dead rat in the wall. That aroma tricks flies to come investigate, thinking it might be a good spot for their young. And they might bring along pollen from another corpse flower, brushing it on the female flowers. A few hours later, the male flowers release strings of pollen. Some of it falls on the female flowers, but
by then they’re no longer able to use it, which is how the plant avoids pollinating
itself. Titan arum is rare. Poachers and deforestation in Sumatra, where it’s from, have taken a toll. And in botanical gardens, like here at the
University of California in Berkeley, there aren’t any other titan arums in ¬¬bloom
to share pollen with. So when one opens up, biologists often collect pollen by hand to freeze and use later, when another corpse flower is ready. Which is how this lonely giant survives, with such a foul and fleeting bloom. Hi, it’s Lauren. We found this little guy cruising on a corpse flower in Berkeley. Slugs sometimes pollinate plants, but usually not corpse flowers. To see some primetime pollinators, check out our episode about how bees vibrate to collect pollen. And watch what happens when you put a hummingbird in a wind tunnel. See you next time!