Intro to Botany
Oddities of Kingdom Plantae
Through evolution plants have acquired complex and unique characteristics. Some of these characteristics may be deemed bizarre. Plants have come a long way since their shift to terrestrial habitats from aquatic habitats millions of years ago. From the development of the cuticle to prevent water loss to the evolution of vascular tissues to provide for efficient internal transportation, all evolutionary changes took place for one reason: biological success. Biological success refers to the ability of an organism to survive and reproduce successfully. They are all striving for a piece of the pie. Plants do this in a variety of different ways, in their fierce competition for water, sunlight, and nutrients some plants have developed characteristics that are well outside of “the box”. Some of these adaptations are for defense, like the Aciphylla Horrid whose leaves are stiff and extremely sharp and whose flowers are surrounded by similarly shaped bracts. On the other hand, some traits are also developed for offensive purposes. For instance the Ficus group commonly known as strangler figs, which grow on trees and literally strangle, and sometimes kill the host tree with their adventitious roots while climbing above thick forest canopies to gather light. Most adaptations have clear functional purpose, yet some of these characteristics strike observers as bizarre. It is the countless evolutionary changes that took plants from ancestral green algae to their immense diversity which we can appreciate today.
Amorphophallus Titanum is an Angiosperm that produces the largest unbranched inflorescence, a group or cluster of flowers, in the world. The largest of these inflorescence recorded was approximately 3 meters high and 2.5 meters across. Shortly before the opening of the inflorescence growth rates of up to 19 centimeters per day have been observed.( Lamprecht 2010: 131) The inflorescence is made up of a spathe which is a green and crimson colored pedal-like structure that wraps around the spadix, a grey-yellow penis shaped flower bearing structure. The flowers are located toward the base of the spadix surrounded by the protective spathe. The cream colored male flowers form a band above a ring of larger pink female flowers.
Figure [ 1 ]: Amorphophallus Titanum
These plants flower rarely in the wild, and even more seldom when cultivated. As of 2010, 132 years since its scientific discovery, approximately only 75 plants had been observed to flower. .( Lamprecht 2010: 128) After the flower dies back a single leaf grows from a corm, an underground stem. This leaf structure reaches tree like proportions of 6 meters in height and 5 meters across. The first European botanist to encounter Amorphophallus Titanum was Italian Odoardo Beccari in 1878. These plants are endemic to Sumatra in the Indonesian archipelago, where they stand out among other local plants.
These striking flowers are not well known for their impressive size alone; perhaps it is best known for its pollination method. When the plant is ready to be pollinated it emits a foul stench resembling that of rotting flesh. The scent is used to attract pollinators such as dung and carrion beetles as well as flies. It also may assist the plant in avoiding predation from plant eaters who do not care for the potent odor. The noxious smell is emitted through thermogenisis, or the production of heat. This takes place within the spadix of the inflorescence, which then heats up certain compounds that produce the stench. A thermologic investigation undertaken by I. Lamprecht and R. S. Seymour noted the origin of heat as well as the spread of heat. The plant started to flower in the afternoon with an ambient temperature of 27⁰C. From afternoon to evening the spathe slowly opened. While the ambient temperature was declining to 24⁰C the top of the spadix reached a maximum temperature of 36.6⁰C...
Cited: Kunze, Richard E. Monotropa uniflora, L. Botanical Gazette , Vol. 3, No. 6 (Jun., 1878), pp. 53-54
Lamprecht, I., & Seymour, R. S. Thermologic investigations of three species of Amorphophallus. Journal Of Thermal Analysis & Calorimetry, Vol.102 No.1 (2010), 127-136. doi:10.1007/s10973-010-0891-9
Lebkuecher and Eickmeier. Physiological Benefits of Stem Curling for Resurrection Plants in the Field. Ecology , Vol. 74, No. 4 (Jun., 1993), pp. 1073-1080
Milius, S. The Science of Big, Weird Flowers. Science News, Vol.156 No.11 (1999), 172.
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