Aug 122015
 
Kate mounting the specimen
New Reekie at its peak

New Reekie at its peak

The flowering of our Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) was a tremendous event with c 19,000 people visiting the Glasshouses to see the plant growing from a small bud to a massive 2.6 metre inflorescence.  As the flower began to fade and flop we took the opportunity to collect important parts of the plant and preserve it for posterity.

New reekie after it flopped

New reekie after it flopped

First cut of the Amorphophallus

Lesley, Fiona and Peter make the first cut of the Amorphophallus

On 3rd July a small team representing  Science, Horticulture and the Herbarium- eagerly observed by a larger crowd of visitors, press and in-house photographers- gathered and started to make the collection.

Peter Wilkie, a tropical botanist at RBGE was particularly keen to take part as he is travelling to Sumatra, the home of the Amorphophallus, early next year.  “It is great to get the opportunity to study this plant close up and to record its fascinating features in detail. This is helping us understand how it interacts with its natural environment and the conservation measures needed to protect this amazing species”.

Collection of spathe

Collection of spathe

Section of flowers collected

Section of flowers collected

Lesley Scott, an Assistant Curator in the Herbarium, was delighted to be involved with making the herbarium specimen: taking material from the living plant, drying and pressing the collections made, collating the crucial label information, giving it a unique identification number (barcode), making a high resolution digital image, finally incorporating it all into the Herbarium Collection and making it available on our online Herbarium catalogue. “Our oldest specimen is from 1697 and this will be our newest specimen.  It will join our other 3 million specimens including that of the titan arum from 1891 donated by Kew and will be available to study by both botanists here in Edinburgh and also around the globe.”

Kate mounting the specimen

Kate mounting the specimen

Fiona Inches, a Glasshouse Supervisor, who had nurtured the plant through the whole of its growth period was very happy to allow herbarium material to be taken, “it’s great to know that although our first flower has now died back, it lives on in the herbarium for future generations to study and marvel at, in the same way we have enjoyed the illustrations and voucher specimen from the first plant in cultivation almost 125 years ago”.

In addition to the herbarium specimen, material was collected for DNA analysis, pollen studies and distribution to other gardens, and the spirit collection.

 

 

Post written by Lesley Scott

See the gallery below for more images of the specimen being collected.

Jun 302015
 
Jun 292015
 
Lords-and-ladies, also known as cuckoo pint, is a common relation of titan arum found growing wild in Scottish woodlands and hedgerows.

Lords-and-ladies, also known as cuckoo pint, is a common relation of titan arum found growing wild in Scottish woodlands and hedgerows.

On Monday 29th June New Reekie is still looking good on the third day of flowering so there is time to introduce some of the family that you might see growing in gardens in Scotland…

Titan arum is in the Araceae family along with over 3,700 other plant species. The family has a characteristic floral structure called a spadix that is a column surrounded by small flowers. Male and female flowers are sometimes present as two distinct and seperate bands around the spadix. In most species the spadix is enclosed in a spathe that partially or totally obscures the small flowers. A curious feature of the family is that the spadix often heats up through chemical reactions taking place within it. This is generally a means to help disperse insect-attracting smells that often mimic rotting flesh and appeal to carrion flies and beetles.

In Scotland the most common member of the family is lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum), a frequent woodland and hedgerow plant that has a structure very similar to titan arum, just a great deal smaller.

A number of other species have been introduced as garden plants and include sweet-flag (Acorus), skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton), bog arum (Calla) and dragon arum (Dracunculus).

Dragon arum (Dracunculus). Image: P. Pickaert.

Dragon arum (Dracunculus). Image: P. Pickaert.

Bog arum (Calla). Image: Borealis55.

Bog arum (Calla). Image: Borealis55.

Sweet-flag (Acorus). Image: Christian Fischer.

Sweet-flag (Acorus). Image: Christian Fischer.

Skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton) photographed at Dawyck Botanic Garden. Image: S. Rae.

Skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton) photographed at Dawyck Botanic Garden. Image: S. Rae.

Jun 282015
 
Titan arum in flower at the Botanics for the first time.

Titan arum in flower at the Botanics for the first time.

The first flowering in Scotland of the world’s largest “flower” is something to celebrate. So what better tipple than the wine produced by the decendants of the plants discoverer – Odoardo Beccari.

The 'Titanum' wine produced by the Beccari family, whose ancestor, Odoardo, discovered the titan arum.

The ‘Titanum’ wine produced by the Beccari family, whose ancestor, Odoardo, discovered the titan arum.

After graduating Beccari spent time at Kew Gardens and met prominent naturalists and botanists of the day, including Charles Darwin and William and Joseph Hooker. Connections with James Brooke, the first Rajah of Sarawak, resulted in 13 years of exploration in Southeast Asia, and it was during this period that Beccari discovered the titan arum in 1878 in Sumatra.

To honour their famous ancestor the Beccari family, who produce wine in the Radda in Chianti region of Tuscany, have named one of their wines ‘Titanum’ and have told Beccari’s story on the Vignavecchia website. Orsola Beccari, the great-granddaughter of Odoardo, kindly sent a shipment of wine to toast the titan arum in full bloom. So here is a toast to the botanist, zoologist and explorer Odoardo Beccari, to his family who have helped us to celebrate his achievements and to the titan arum that we fondly know as New Reekie.

Odoardo Beccari became a prominent botanist and has numerous plant names that honour his contribution to botanical science.

Odoardo Beccari became a prominent botanist and there are numerous plant names that honour his contribution to botanical science.

Jun 262015
 

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It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Our Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum), one of the world’s biggest and smelliest blooms, is now in full flower. It’s a first for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and for Scotland.

It is only expected to flower – and smell – for a couple of days, so hurry along to the Garden if you want to experience the botanical spectacle. See how our plant compares to a titan arum in bloom at Basel, pictured above.

To give everyone a chance to see the plant, the Glasshouses will be open from 9am until 9pm during the period it is in full flower.

Visiting Times

9am – Access to Glasshouses only (enter via East Gate, Inverleith Row).

10am – Garden fully open. Entry via East Gate and John Hope Gateway, West Gate.

5.45pm – Last entry to Garden

6pm – Garden closes

6pm – 8.15pm – Entry to Glasshouses only (enter via East Gate)

8.30pm – Last admission to Glasshouses

9pm – Glasshouses close

Glasshouse admission costs £5, £4 concessions, children 15 and under free. No advance booking. Friends of RBGE get free entry to the Glasshouses and our Regional Gardens at Dawyck, Benmore and Logan. Why not sign up to become a Friend today?

Jun 182015
 

A small army of staff and volunteers, dubbed the ‘Titan Arum Army’, is sweltering alongside New Reekie to help explain this extraordinary tropical plant to visitors. However, heat is a central part of this plants story in more ways than one…

Marianne Farish from SRUC with the thermal imaging camera used to visualise the temperature of New Reekie.

Marianne Farish from SRUC with the thermal imaging camera used to visualise the temperature of New Reekie.

Yesterday, on June 17th, Marianne Farish from SRUC, just outside Edinburgh, was a special visitor to see New Reekie. Part of her work on animal health involves monitoring temperature with a sophisticated thermal camera. Temperature changes in the bodies of animals can indicate infections or other problems. Marianne heard about New Reekie on the news and was intrigued to discover that the central part of the flower head heats up. When she asked if she could bring her camera along we jumped at the opportunity.

The science behind the FLIR SC620 camera is that the lens only lets infrared light (heat) through, and clever software then converts this pattern of varying heat into a gradient of colours that we can see.

The reason that being able to see the variations in temperature across the titan arum is so interesting is that on both the first and second night of opening the flower head will heat up to help the pollination process. This phenomenon was only documented for the first time by work at the Botanical Gardens of the University of Bonn in 2006. Incredible as it might seem, many plants in the same family as titan arum – Araceae – produce heat in the same way. It is likely this heating happens for two reasons:

  • to disperse the smell chemicals that attract potential pollinators (carrion beetles and flies)
  • to reward insect pollinators by helping them get to operating temperature (insects are cold blooded)
Thermal image of titan arum (17th June) taken with FLIR SC620 camera.

Thermal image of titan arum (17th June) taken with FLIR SC620 camera showing temperature gradients caused by sunlight. Copyright: SRUC 2015.

What the work at Bonn has shown is that around 8pm on the first night of opening the central column (spadix) heats up to around 36 degrees centigrade and will be around 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding temperature. This heating happens in waves, with peak temperature reached around midnight. Waves of smell were noted to coincide with heating so for the titan arum the ‘smell boosting’ hypothesis seems to be supported.

Staff enjoying the thermal camera that will hopefully be employed to monitor temperature changes during flowering (estimated to be a week to 10 days away).

Staff enjoying the thermal camera that will hopefully be employed to monitor temperature changes during flowering (estimated to be a week to 10 days away).

The Bonn team has also documented heating of the male flowers on the second night of opening. Essentially what is happening is that the male and female flowers at the base of the spadix mature on consecutive days to reduce the chance of self-fertilisation. Female flowers are receptive on the first night and male flowers produce pollen on the second night. What the plant is doing is sending out a massive smell signal on the first night to bring in insects that have just left another titan arum (possibly miles away) that has released its pollen. The pollen covered insect will arrive and deposit pollen on receptive female flowers. The insect will stay inside the flower chamber, around the base of the spadix, for 24 hours, only leaving when it has again been given a fresh dusting of pollen ready to repeat the cycle with another flower.

This whole process is an example of deception as the flower tricks the insect into thinking it has found some rotting flesh by sending out a smell that is chemically very similar. However, it is possible that the insects do gain some benefit. Many insects eat pollen so some food is available. Another suggestion is that the insects might be meeting their mates in the flower chamber. Perhaps the heat and smell is a turn-on for carrion beetles? At least it is a relatively safe place to mate as few animals can access the flower chamber and fewer still can tolerate the smell!