Tue, 14 May 2002

Putrid flower blooms in Sibolangit every five years

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

A plant with a large tuber is currently one of the main attractions of the Sibolangit Nature Park in Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra.

Officially called the Amorphophallus Titanum, this plant has a giant foul-smelling flower that resembles apetalous Rafflesia. The flower in the Sibolangit park blooms once every five years, and though the flower is still not fully developed its presence in the park has drawn lots of visitors.

Back in 1914, this park was earmarked as a botanical garden by the director of the Bogor Botanical Garden, Dr. J.C. Koningsberger. In the 1980s, by virtue of decree from the minister of agriculture, the 24.85-hectare garden was turned into a nature conservation area called the Sibolangit Nature Park.

Recently, an Amorphophallus Titanum was found on a sloping path leading to the center of the park. Many people are coming to the park for the rare chance to enjoy the beauty of the blooming flower.

When the plant is blooming, the purplish red corona of the flower and the pink stem-like stalk are quite charming.

The giant flower can bloom to a diameter of two meters, with the corona being 1.5 meters in width and the stem some three meters long. This plant grows on fertile and loose alluvial soil.

The head of the Sibolangit Natural Resources Conservation Area, Tri Widodo, said the first Amorphophallus Titanum was found growing in Sibolangit in the 1920s by an Italian botanist, Odoardo Beccari. He added that Sibolangit was once home to an Amorphophallus Titanum that grew to about 2.60 m in height, the tallest ever in the area.

He said the flower of the plant emerged from an underground tuber. Its growth period depends on the underground tuber.

"On the average, it takes the flower about two months to grow. The growth period may be shorter or longer depending on the tuber," he said.

The fertilization of the flower begins with the male and female flowers sticking themselves to the flower stalk. After a while, the flower stalk will take the form of a bud and will remain in this shape until a leaf stem appears disguised as a stalk.

The foul odor emanating from the flower can be smelled up to a distance of 25 meters, stimulating insects and drawing them to undertake pollination. This insect-induced pollination takes place at the corona of the flower, which sometimes also serves to keep water in. When fully bloomed, this corona looks like a bowl and can contain five to 10 centimeters of water. Sometimes it even catches falling twigs.

Many insects die when they get into the corona. In some cases they die because they are trapped in the pool of water. When the flower withers, all the dead insects in the corona will emit a pungent smell, which is why it is called the "carcass flower".

This flower is often mistaken for the Rafflesia Arnoldi, the world's biggest flower. Actually, they are two different types of flowers, although both have a unique smell.

The Rafflesia Arnoldi is broad and round and is a parasite, living on the roots of liana. The Amorphophallus Titanum is cone- shaped and originates in an underground tuber.

Syawaluddin Umar, the manager of the central research unit of Leuser Management, said the Amorphophallus Titanum could also be found in the Leuser National Park. Hundreds of these foul- smelling flowers, he said, were found in two locations: the Gunung Air area of Seiempatnempu Hilir district, Dairi regency, North Sumatra, and the Ketambe forest in southeast Aceh.

The flower can grow anywhere as long as there is a sufficient level of humidity and soil looseness.