There are things in life that we never forget. I still remember that time when a corpse flower bloomed in the middle of our sugar-cane field next to our house in Central Java. I remember vividly that day when I was still young. It was a very hot day, my older sister and I, wanted to eat sweet juicy sugarcane. We sent one of the men who worked for our parents to go to the field and cut few of the canes. Our Mom didn’t let us go to the field because sugar-cane leaves are sharp and furry, it could irritate our skin. Not very long, the old man ran back and called us to go with him. He said that we have to see the corpse flower.

There it was, standing big and tall among the sugarcane plants. A strange flower that I had never seen before in my life…. And the smell was nauseating, worse than a dead rat.

What is exactly this strange flower?

Corpse Flower or in Indonesian Bunga Bangkai (bunga = flower, bangkai = corpse). The largest is known botanically by the name of Amorphophallus Titanum or Titan Arum. It is related to calla lili, arum lili and philodendron. This plant was discovered for the first time by an Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in the island of Sumatra in1878.


Plant Descriptions (Titan Arum – Amorphophallus titanium):

  • Plant: 6 meters high (19,d ft)
  • Flower: Up to 2.9 meters (12 ft)
  • Leaf Canopy: 4.5 wide (14.6 ft)
  • Tuber: up to 100 kilograms (220,5 pounds)

This plant has 2 phases of life which occurs one after the other alternately: Vegetative (Dormant) Phase and Generative (Productive) Phase. During the generative phase, a single trunk with large leaves will grow. After a certain time/years, the plant will die off and enters a vegetative (dormant) stage where the giant tuber remains under the ground. If the tuber gets enough nutrition and water combined with right condition, in the next generative phase it will grow a massive flower. After the flower wilted away only after 3 days full bloom, the leaf buds start to grow. The tuber produces only one leaf at a time.

The colour of the flower is somehow mimics the colour of fresh dark red meat. It is always opens during the night and it will increase in temperature. The heat of the flower will cause it to steam and spread the foul rotting flesh smell to attract insect to the flower and help with the pollination. When the pollination occurs, it will produce small red fruits with seeds.

During my childhood many times I saw Amorphophallus plants grew around our large property, but they were only the trunk and the leaves. It was an odd plant that had a soft green trunk with whitish grey irregular mottles. In our childish imagination it resembled a snake so my sister and I nicknamed the plant snake food tree. It was only one time in our life that we saw the flower, and it was on that hot day when we saw it there in the middle of the sugar-cane bush.


Titan Arum Trees at Bonn Botanic Garden

Edit – Thursday July 15, 2010:
I was so surprised that today this old blog is coming up the first on my Top Posts list…. and I also noticed a related post:
Rare, really smelly Sumatran “Corpse Flower” to bloom at Houston museum:



After seeing Titan Arum flower in the Glasshouse at the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens two days ago, I have come to a conclusion that the one that we once saw flowering during my childhood in our family property in Central Java was not Titan Arum/ Amorphophallus titanium. Instead it was another species of Amorphophallus in which the local people name the plant ‘Suweg’. The flower was smaller than Titan Arum with dark red spadix that was thicker in shape, but both smell as bad. In memory, the Suweg flower was about 1 m high, compared to the Titan Arum flowers which averagely grow taller than 2 m.

Bunga Suweg - Amorphophallus sp. This picture is similar to the one that I saw in my childhood, the spadix is thicker and dark maroon colour.

Bunga Suweg – Amorphophallus sp. This picture is similar to the one that I saw in my childhood, the spadix is thicker and dark maroon colour.