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Liège botanical garden to gain two record-breaking foul-smelling plants

14:54 08/09/2020

Plant-lovers are set to flock to Liège to see the Observatory of the World of Plants’ latest proud acquisition – two gigantic Arum Titans.

These very rare plants – that grow rapidly, sometimes up to six metres high – stand out for their huge three-metre high phallic flower that smells of corpses. The first flowering however is not due for another two years.

Only a few botanical gardens currently show these plants, including Meise near Brussels. The Sart-Tilman Observatory team, coveting the Arum Titans for 20 years, even went to Meise to consult its staff before buying their new attractions.

The Arum Titan comes from the tropical forests of the large Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is threatened with extinction due to deforestation from the growth of palm oil, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

So the aim of the purchase is not just to attract visitors, but also to protect the species. “Later on, we hope to breed the plants, trying to have grains and exchanging them with other botanical gardens,” said biologist Sophie Pittoors.

For now, visitors will have to wait to see the Titans in their full glory. They are "only" seven years old – which is young for plants. The bulbs currently weigh two kilos and need to be around 10 to flower. As the weight doubles in size every year, the first petals are due in 2022-2023.

Time is short to appreciate the blooms – only 72 hours every three to eight years. On the other hand, there is no problem finding them, due to their sickly odour.

The distinctive perfume is not a defence mechanism, but there for reproduction. The plant attracts flies and beetles who think they are coming to settle on a bit of decomposing meat. But this is a trap, Pittoors explains: “They are duped by the plant as it is not a corpse, it’s a flower. And by visiting the flower, the flies will pollinise it,” allowing the Titans to reproduce.

Liege’s plant observatory is open Tuesday and Thursday 15.00 to 17.30 and Wednesday, Friday and Sunday 13.00 to 17.30. The entrance fee is €6 for adults and €5 for children 7-17. For more information, see: http://espacesbotaniques.uliege.be/

Written by Liz Newmark