Grow The Largest Flower in The World- Corpse Flower
A Plant Geek's Biggest Challenge!
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
The Corpse Flower, Amorphophallus titanum, is a single inflorescence that reaches an astounding height of 6-9’ tall. It only flowers once every 7-8 years and only 3-5 blooming events, from plants grown in cultivation, happen worldwide each year. This rare plant is for plant geeks who want a challenge and will be committed to nearly a decade of nurturing and pampering this rare and attractive giant.
Corpse Flower was first found in the tropical forests of Sumatra where even there, it is rare in its native habitat. It is a member of the Aroid family and also known as the Titan Arum.
About the Bloom
The bloom is magnificent with its frilly-edged maroon petal completely circling the center spadix. It’s known as the Corpse Flower because of the raunchy smelling odor, similar to rotten meat, when in full bloom. However, this does attract the pollinators like flies and beetles in the wild. In cultivation, hand pollination is required. A beautiful seed stalk forms after the flower is pollinated. Small red showy fruits appear on the top of the seed stalk and last for up to eight months.
Difficult to Grow?
Many have said this is one of the most difficult plants to grow in cultivation. However, it is not any more difficult than any other flowering plant. The difficulty comes in the consistent growing conditions for a period of seven years or more. You must mimic its native environment of tropical Sumatra. For instance, every year, once the plant dies back the corm must be moved into a larger pot. If the corm is nicked or damaged, it can allow disease organisms to kill the plant. We know of a grower who used Neosporin on the nick, which kept the corm from getting diseased and it did flower. Corpse Flower is not forgiving. Humidity has to be 80 percent, the ambient air temperature needs to be above 60 degrees, and preferably above 75 degrees. It won’t hurt the plant if the temperature dips into the 60s for a few days in a row but it shouldn’t be in the 60s for months at a time, keep the soil moist, but not soggy, and use sterile soil when transplanting.
Repotting should be done during dormancy when the petiole and leaf collapses and rots away at the end of each year. The potting soil is washed away from the corm and the corm is carefully lifted and placed in a new, larger pot. The underground corm supports the leaf stage and then every year the corm grows larger. When the corm reaches 40-50 pounds, it sends up a bloom instead of its usual leaf and petiole. Mature corms can reach upwards of 50 pounds.
Like most tropical plants, it needs warm growing conditions above 75 degrees F. Some people have success growing the plant on a heat mat when grown indoors to keep the temperature in the right range.
It needs a growing environment that gets good light but not hot noonday sun. Filtered sunlight or partial shade is perfect. Corpse Flowers grow in the understory of the forests where dappled light falls on the leaves. Corpse Flower grows best in natural sunlight. If you are growing inside, provide as much natural light as possible and supplement with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs.
Petiole and leaves of young plant
Inside of flower showing spadix
The Growing Process
Corpse Flower is a large plant and it needs to be moved up gradually in pot size. Each year the underground corm and petiole and palm-like leaves get larger. In the winter, it has a dormancy or rest period, when the leaves wilt and rot away. The corm rests in the soil for a month or two until it send up a new, larger petiole.
It’s important to water the plant accurately, that is, allow the soil surface to dry a little between watering but never let it become bone dry, yet don’t keep it soggy either. The tropical forest soils are light and open, yet the rainfall is often heavy so the plant almost always has some moisture in contact with its roots.
The growing situation needs to have the eventual space to contain the plant, as the petiole and leaf can rise up to 10’ or more as the plant matures. Insects are not generally a problem, however, root disease can be a problem and kill the plant so handle the dormant corm with care and water accurately.
Corpse Flower is a moderate feeder needing a balanced fertilizer as the growing season starts, being sure to taper off as fall approaches. As they do prefer lower light, don’t overdo the feed. A top-dressing of an organic fertilizer a couple times during the growing season is adequate. If you are applying liquid fertilizer, you can add some with every watering during the active growing season.
Periods of extreme dryness or a cool prolonged dip in temperature can cause great harm to the plant. Grow in warm temperatures with bright, filtered light, water accurately and be consistent in your repotting. Several years from now, you could enjoy a sensational flowering event that’s news worthy and rare.
Sources: Photos courtesy of Robert Saporito