Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Our Amorphophallus Is Smaller, but It Stinks Like Its Big Cousin

08.02.2012
The famed “corpse flower” plant – known for its giant size, rotten-meat odor and phallic shape – has a new, smaller relative: A University of Utah botanist discovered a new species of Amorphophallus that is one-fourth as tall but just as stinky.

The new species, collected on two small islands off Madagascar, brings to about 170 the number of species in the genus Amorphophallus, which is Greek for “misshapen penis” because of the shape of the plants’ flower-covered shaft, called the inflorescence or the spadix, says Greg Wahlert, a postdoctoral researcher in biology.


Cameron McIntire, University of Utah.
Close-up of the reddish-purplish, leafy "spathe" surrounding the central "spadix" of the newly discovered plant species Amorphophallus perrieri, which grows to 5 feet tall, one-fourth the height of its more famous relative, the "corpse flower" or Amorphophallus titanum. While the spadix sometimes is referred to as the plant's "flower," in fact the lower part of the spadix, hidden by the spathe, is covered by hundreds of tiny flowers, each only a fraction of an inch big.

The 4.5-foot-tall plant, Amorphophallus perrieri, began reeking Friday, Feb. 3 as it approached the peak of its bloom in a campus greenhouse. A day later, Wahlert began cutting down the plant in stages so the spadix, the surrounding leafy spathe and other parts could be pressed, mounted and submitted to the National Museum of Natural History in Paris as part of the process of designating the plant a new species.

That won’t be official until about a year from now after Wahlert publishes a scientific paper formally describing the species, which can grow to 5 feet high, and how it differs from relatives in the genus, including Amorphophallus titanum – also known as the “corpse plant,” “corpse flower” and “titan arum” – which grows to 20 feet high.

After Wahlert first collected specimens of the new plant in 2006 and 2007 and discovered it was a new species, he found the Paris museum’s herbarium held a dried specimen collected from one of the same islands by French botanist-geologist Joseph Marie Henri Perrier de la Bâthie (1873-1958), who didn’t realize it was a new species. So Wahlert is naming it for Perrier.

“Perrier collected it in 1932, and it sat in the museum until we dug it up and compared it to the other specimens and the plants that I had collected,” Wahlert says. “Perrier spent years working on scores of other plant groups [and describing hundreds of other new species] and just never got around to it.”

The corpse flower smells like rotting meat to attract the flies and beetles that pollinate it. Wahlert had expected the new species would smell like cheese, which it did briefly when it began blooming Feb. 3. But the odor soon grew worse – much worse – and more like its giant relative.

“I smelled rotting roadkill out in the sun reeking,” says University of Utah biology Professor Lynn Bohs, in whose lab Wahlert works. “There’s also a note of public restroom – a Porta Potty smell.”

Wahlert added: “I would say carrion and feces. When you get right up to it, it’s really foul and disgusting.”

Another Utah researcher collected volatile gases emitted by the plant “and will identify the components of the smell,” Wahlert says. Only a small group of Amorphophallus species have been tested for odors, but the known aromas range from rotting meat to anise, cheese, dung, fish, urine, spice and chocolate, he adds.

Two weeks before the plant began to bloom, “it was just a little bud sticking out of the dirt,” he says. When it bloomed, the stalk was almost 4 feet tall and the inflorescence or spadix was about 10 inches long. It was yellow, with pollen on the top part. The lower part, hidden by the reddish, leafy spathe, was covered by hundreds of tiny flowers, each a fraction of an inch wide. (Sometimes the entire spadix is referred to informally as the flower.)

“They are just so rude – their appearance and smell,” Bohs says. “Everybody I’ve talked to says they almost started puking when they smelled it. It’s horrid.”

In the Same Family as Philodendrons and Skunk Cabbage

Some thought the plants’ suggestive genus name was horrid. In 2008, Sir David Attenborough said he invented the name “titan arum” for the corpse flower for his BBC series “The Private Life of Plants” because he thought it would be inappropriate to repeatedly refer to Amorphophallus.

Bohs says the genus belongs to the family Araceae, commonly known as the arum or aroid family. The family includes philodendrons, taro root (from which Hawaiians make poi), skunk cabbage and anthurium, a plant common in floral arrangements, with a yellow spadix surrounded by a leafy, red, heart-shaped spathe.

Wahlert says plants in the genus Amorphophallus are found in southern Asia, the South Pacific, Australia and Africa, including Madagascar. Of the 170 or so species in the genus, which first was discovered in 1834, “a lot have been known for 150 years, but one, two or three new species are described every year,” he adds.

A. titanum grows naturally only in Sumatra in Indonesia, although it is found around the world in greenhouses that compete for the largest corpse flower plant. The Guinness Book of Records title currently is held by a New Hampshire specimen that had a spadix measuring 10-feet-2.25-inches tall in 2010. Counting the stem and spadix, A. titanum can reach 20 feet tall, compared with a 5-foot maximum for A. perrieri, which has a longer stem and shorter spadix – about 10 inches long in the case of the one that bloomed on campus.

New Species Collected from a Burial Island

Wahlert collected the new species from Nosy Mitsio and Nosy Ankarea – two islands northwest of Madagascar, which is off the east coast of Africa. “Nosy” means island in the Malagasy language. The plant since has been found on Madagascar.

He had to obtain permission from a local village to visit Nosy Ankarea, an uninhabited, half-mile-wide island where the Sakalava people buried their rulers. Unlike Ankarea, which is still vegetated, Mitsio is heavily deforested. A. perrieri was found there in low scrub behind beach dunes.

“I went there in 2006 to collect tree violets, and when I got there I discovered these Amorphophallus in full bloom on the first day in the field,” cutting and collecting four or five specimens, Wahlert says. “That night I got malaria. I stayed there a week but was so sick I couldn’t do much collecting.”

After the trip, Wahlert showed the specimens to Dutch botanist Wilbert Hetterscheid of Wageningen University. Hetterscheid, an expert on Amorphophallus, said they were a new species, and is co-authoring the descriptive paper with Wahlert.

In October 2007, Wahlert went back to the islands at the end of the dry season, and once again the new species were in full bloom. He collected 15 tubers – the roots – so he could grow the plants.

Wahlert kept the live plants at various institutions where he worked and gave others away, ending up with one left when he moved to Utah last fall.

Why should anyone care about a stinking plant with a suggestive shape?

“It’s not high-tech, but it’s still important to describe new species, to document biodiversity, particularly in a place like Madagascar, which is one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots,” Wahlert says. “It’s been severely deforested and is continuing to be deforested. So it’s important to document new species before they go extinct.”

University of Utah Public Relations
201 Presidents Circle, Room 308
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-9017
(801) 581-6773 fax: (801) 585-3350
www.unews.utah.edu
Contacts:
-- Greg Wahlert, postdoctoral researcher in biology – cellular (541) 419-9220, office (801) 581-5423, rinorea@gmail.com Skype address: gregory.wahlert
-- Lee Siegel, science news specialist, University of Utah Public Relations –
office (801) 581-8993, cellular (801) 244-5399, lee.siegel@utah.edu

Lee Siegel | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.utah.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Did nerve cells evolve to talk to microbes?
10.07.2020 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Study reveals how bacteria build essential carbon-fixing machinery
09.07.2020 | University of Liverpool

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The spin state story: Observation of the quantum spin liquid state in novel material

New insight into the spin behavior in an exotic state of matter puts us closer to next-generation spintronic devices

Aside from the deep understanding of the natural world that quantum physics theory offers, scientists worldwide are working tirelessly to bring forth a...

Im Focus: Excitation of robust materials

Kiel physics team observed extremely fast electronic changes in real time in a special material class

In physics, they are currently the subject of intensive research; in electronics, they could enable completely new functions. So-called topological materials...

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Contact Tracing Apps against COVID-19: German National Academy Leopoldina hosts international virtual panel discussion

07.07.2020 | Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Did nerve cells evolve to talk to microbes?

10.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Cherned up to the maximum

10.07.2020 | Physics and Astronomy

Road access for all would be costly, but not so much for the climate

10.07.2020 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>