2006-08-10

Field Trip, August 9, 2006, #3 of 3: A. titanum at BBG, "Baby's grown up."

[Updated 2006.08.11-0637: Additional Web cam image sampled this morning.]

Mark Fisher, foreman of the Steinhardt Conservatory and curator of the Tropical Pavilion at BBG, describes A. titanum's life cycle and growth patterns and the history of BBG's specimen.
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A. titanum spends many years cycling between growth and dormancy before blooming. With each cycle of growth, the plant sends up a single shoot. Most of these are vegetative, not reproductive, sending up a single compound leaf on a long stalk. In the photos above, you can see a small specimen of A. titanum which gives you an indication of the shape and proportions of the leaf. The leaf stores energy in the underground tuber, which gets larger with each cycle. If the leaf is damaged before completing its cycle, the plant can die.

This almost happened to BBG's specimen, "Baby", over the past year. Baby is ten years old. Last fall, it sent up a giant single leaf which grew to, if my notes from Fisher's lecture are correct, 18' high by 8' across. The tuber leapt in size, and began to push out the sides of its container. Early this year, the plant, no longer adequately supported by its now rounded container, toppled over, breaking the stem of the leaf. The greenhouse crews splinted the leaf with two-by-fours (and you thought staking tomatoes was challenging!), saving the leaf, and the plant.

When the plant again went dormant this year, they weighed the tuber at 40 pounds. This is still a baby for A. titanum, whose tubers can grow to 200 pounds at maturity. For this reason, when it broke dormancy in June, they expected another single leaf to emerge. Instead, when the first hint of spadix showed, they knew they had a bloom instead of just a leaf.

Due to the limited space in the Bonsai House to view the plant, three lecture sessions were scheduled, 20 minutes apart, limited to 50 people each. Twenty minutes was not enough time for all the questions I had, let alone those of other guests.

At the end of the second session, I did manage to ask Fisher if they were also going to monitor the temperature of the bloom. Since many aroids increase their temperature, I wondered if this plant did as well. Mark said that he heard they were going to do that. From the photos below, it looks like they are.

BBG's Titan Arum Web Cam, sampled at 22:25 EDT on August 10, 2006.

BBG's Titan Arum Web Cam, sampled at 06:35 EDT on August 11, 2006.

There were technical difficulties with the lecture sessions. There was not enough time, for sure. They also didn't speak to all their audience. This was theater in the round, after all; it's important to use the entire "stage" and to spend some time facing each section of the audience. Related to this was the lack of amplification. An empty greenhouse doesn't have the best acoustics even under the most favorable circumstances. During my visit, the ventilation machinery of the greenhouse kicked in, with clanks and clangs which I would have found musical had I not already been straining to hear the words of a speaker ten feet off facing away from me.

Most things BBG, and especially Chiari and Fisher, did well. They compressed a lot of information into very limited time. I was already familiar with most of what they were sharing with us, so I wasn't worried about not catching all of it. But it also provided an opportunity to talk about the importance of habitat conservation, the impacts of plant predation by unscrupulous collectors, and the tenuous grip on survival that many species already have without our help to push them over the brink. Most of all, they shared their wonder, their joy, their plant geek natures with us. And I, fellow geek, felt at home.

BBG opens at 8am. I'm going to try to be there first thing in the morning, before I go into work, to see what in person what changes have occurred overnight. And to see if I can catch a whiff of that infamous smell ...

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3 comments:

lisa said...

Gawd that thing is COOL!!! I sure hope you get to smell it! (That sounds pretty funny out of context :)

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Just wanted to thank you for these updates... it's much better than reading a newspaper story to hear a gardener's firsthand account! :)

Xris said...

Lisa: I also hope I get to smell the "giant, shapeless penis" flower! I didn't get there this morning, after all. I'm going to track its progress today by Web cam, and stop by this afternoon on the way home from work.

BlackSwamp: Thanks! Comments are the only way I know if anyone's reading any of this.

I did learn that BBG found out about my blog because I was writing about "Baby"! I notified BBG's Webmaster about the "diameter" error, which they then corrected. They told me they had already discovered my blog when they were researching who was linking to, and reporting on, their Titan.

I love the Web!