The Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh bloomed Saturday after 12 years of careful cultivation and a few feverish weeks of tracking bud development. It's the first time a Titan Arum has bloomed in Scotland, and a huge victory for the dedicated staff at the Botanics who nurtured the corm from the size of an orange to 153.9kg, the heaviest on record.
I made it back from London just in time to see it last night, on the second day of its two-day peak bloom.
I queued with the public for an hour and 15 minutes in order to experience the spectacle from an outside visitor perspective instead of slipping through the back door waving my staff pass. One of the most unexpectedly interesting aspects of studying at the Botanics is beginning to understand how nonhorticulturists experience plants, and how to get more people involved with them who wouldn't otherwise be interested. The Titan Arum is a perfect example of how, amazingly, a plant can get so many people fired up about a botanical phenomenon. Thousands of people stood in line, some for more than two hours, to spend four minutes or less with this massive inflorescence. And they were excited.
The Titan Arum Army of Botanics staff, students and volunteers did a great job of making the queue organized, fast, and fun. They worked the line, handing out informational pamphlets and chatting with visitors about the plant and other work done at the Botanics in an excellent display of community outreach, education and PR. There was even a three-piece band playing sprightly tunes for entertainment.
It's no surprise that, like much today in the world of science and conservation, botanical gardens struggle to make enough profit to employ the skilled gardeners who tend them, let alone dedicate resources to research and plant and habitat conservation. Rock star plants, such as the blooming Titan arum, are one way to attract more people into the gardens. With a £5/person charge to enter the glasshouses (the general Botanics grounds are still, miraculously, free to enjoy), these experiences could significantly affect the garden's bottom line, while at the same time spreading horticultural knowledge and enthusiasm. Who knows, maybe the world's next great botanists were amongst the children who stood, open-mouthed and wondering, at the eight foot-tall flower that looked like something come to life from their picture books?