Odoardo Beccari

Travelling to The Titan Arum

Today is the anniversary of the death of Odoardo Beccari, who died on this day in 1920.

After growing up an orphan, Beccarri managed to get an education in his native Italy, and he eventually traveled to England to study at Kew.
Beccarri was friends with Hooker and Darwin, but he also befriended James Brooke, which meant he was able to spend three years exploring Borneo.
During his lifetime, Becarri traveled all over India, Malaysia, and New Zealand. But it was on a little voyage he took to central Sumatra (in Indonesia) in 1878 that Beccarri discovered the plant with which he will forever be associated: the Amorphophallus titanum - or the Titan arum- the largest flower in the world.
Seven years later, in 1885, the first Titan arum specimen bloomed at Kew, and when it happened, it created a sensation. Today, the Titan arum bloom still draws thousands of visitors. People love to take a selfie in front of the giant blooming plant.
The flower is commonly referred to as the corpse flower as it smells like rotting flesh.  In a fascinating article, scent scientists recently identified the compounds that make up that terrible smell. The odor includes aspects of cheese sweat, rotting fish, decomposing meat, and garlic, among even worse items that I won't mention here.
And, it takes the corpse flower a decade before it can bloom. The putrid smell is meant to attract beetles and other insects to move pollen between blooming plants so that it can reproduce. Incredibly, the plants only bloom for 24-36 hours before collapsing.
Between that first bloom at Kew (back in 1885) and the year 2000, fewer than 50 Titan arum blooms had been recorded. But, in 2016, suddenly dozens of corpse flowers around the world bloomed within weeks of each other. Horticulturists are still attempting to discern the reason for the clustered bloom event.

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Odoardo Beccari
Odoardo Beccari

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