Red faces as bloom prediction backfires
By Amanda MacMillan
STAFF at Edinburgh’s world-famous Royal Botanic Garden are red-faced after the horticultural event of the decade fell flat.
The institution has been waiting eight years for its giant “corpse flower” to bloom and confidently predicted the event would happen this summer – the first time ever in Scotland.
So sure were staff, they printed T-shirts, set up a webcam, and even prepared to borrow a thermal imaging camera from the local fire brigade to monitor the flower at night.
But fickle Mother Nature had other ideas and all the 154kg monster produced – was a giant, spindly leaf.
One member of staff today (Fri) ruefully admitted: “They have their own mind like anybody else or like anything else.”
The Amorphophallus Titanum is renowned for being the smelliest flower in the world.
Also known as the ‘corpse flower’, its petals give off the stench of rotting meat to attract insects and help with pollenation.
The flower, which is found in places such as Indonesia, very rarely blooms in the wild let alone in captivity.
Steve Scott, senior horticulturalist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), said: “We thought it was going to be a flower. We’ve had it for eight years which is a long time.
“Normally it flowers about five or six years. This one we weighed and we thought it’s bound to flower this year.”
The team printed T-shirts printed saying “New Reekie stinking at RGBE 2011” with a large outline of the flower on front.
A special icon was placed on the garden’s website which allowed visitors to click on and view images of the giant plant as it grew.
And a picture was posted to the site with the caption “a flower shaped bud develops”.
The news section of the site boasted: “This will be the first time that a titan arum has flowered in Scotland and visitors are expected to make a beeline to the Glasshouses to see if the massive flower lives up to its reputation.”
Staff even prepared to borrow a thermal imaging camera from Lothian and Borders fire brigade so that they could see the activity of the flower at night.
After waiting and waiting, the team were crestfallen to see the uncooperative plant push out another huge, thin leaf – something it does annually.
Steve said: “When push came to the shove it just turned into a leaf, so unlucky.”
“It was a surprise. It’s just like nothing has ever been this big and just gone back into another leaf before. It is unusual.”
The T-shirts have been put into a cupboard until the plant eventually flowers.
Steve said that they will have to score off the “1” in “2011” and replace it with a different year.
He added: “Plants have a tendency not to grow the way you want them to grow. They’ll just grow the way they want. This year it doesn’t want to be a flower. But hopefully the end of next year it may flower when this dies down.”
Despite the lack of a flower this year, the RBGE team still have reason to be proud.
The stem – or corm – of the plant is so heavy it was necessary to borrow scales from Edinburgh zoo to weigh it.
The plant tipped the scales at a massive 153.95kg, easily beating the previous world record of 117kg held by a botanic gardens in Bonn, Germany.
The corm is still growing and could reach around 200 kg.
It is hoped that the plant will flower next time around which will be around March 2013.
But Steve said: “Don’t hold me to that. I thought it would have been a flower this time but you can’t always get it right.”
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