Big Blooming News: Titan Maudine Breaks Record

May 22, 2013


Ohio State’s Titan Arum Woody2 bloomed last week; before his bloom had even closed, Joan Leonard, Biological Sciences Greenhouse manager, confirmed that another Titan, Maudine, was on her way.

Titan watchers went on high alert.

Why such a fuss?

First—and maybe, last—what never happens is happening right now at Ohio State. Again.

Few have ever managed the feat of blooming a Titan Arum from start to finish—that is, planting the seeds, watching over them through germination, tuber growth, leaf production, and dormancy—and maybe, just maybe, somewhere in their life cycle, be rewarded with a bloom, instead of a leaf.

In fact, this has happened less than 150 times worldwide since the Titan Arum: Amorphophallus titanum, aka Corpse Flower, was discovered in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in Sumatra’s rainforest.                                                                                               

Now, Joan Leonard is fast becoming a legend in the world of plant conservationists. She is one of very few people worldwide who have developed a successful Titan-blooming track record—three years in a row AND twice in one year—within days, in fact of Woody2’s bloom, Maudine is set to burst forth. If you count the Titan that bloomed at Miami University in April, which Leonard had grown and given to them two months before it bloomed, you could say three.

Actually, the Miami Titan is the identical genetic clone of both Maudine and a third Titan in the BioSci Greenhouse, yet to bloom. All three are corm divisions taken in 2009 from the Titan Jesse that bloomed last year.

What is Leonard’s secret? “Well, it is luck, of course,” she said, “but apart from that, it is just sheer patience. The process of nurturing, of watching--even during dormancy, is more important than anything. You have to make sure that they are cared-for, that you are giving them what they need, when they need it, and in the amounts that are needed. You cannot hurry a Titan.”

For Leonard, it is not about their fantastical appearance, odor, size, bragging rights; it is all about preservation for a species on the verge of extinction in the wild. “Many plant conservationists around the world have taken on the responsibility of ensuring that this species survive, if not in the wild, then in botanical gardens and conservatories, where they can be cared for, and pollen collected from those that do bloom shared with others who have undertaken this same mission.”

Right now, Leonard has eight Titans under her roof plus 100 seeds that she planted last year. She sent some of them to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, one of the country’s great centers for plant research and conservation.

What’s in a Name?

Don’t be fooled by the Titan Arum’s relatives.  There are those who knowingly or unknowingly have passed off the Amorphophallus bulbifer; or Amorphophallus konjac, or Voodoo Lily—which bears a vague resemblance to the Titan Arum—as the real thing.

But Voodoo Lilies are as common and easy to grow in a backyard or indoor plant room as tulips.

The real thing still remains elusive, hard-to-come by and rarer-than-rare. Even with the capabilities a professional greenhouse conservatory affords an expert plant scientist, the possibility of being able to bloom a Titan Arum is never a sure thing—making each bloom a unique, exciting, awe-inspiring event.

It is because they are such rare and amazing entities with each bloom an event that plant conservationists decided that Titan Arum blooms deserved to have unique names to track their lineage.

Ohio State now has had Woody One, Jesse, Woody2, and coming soon, Maudine—each named for a fabled Ohio State figure: legendary football coach Wayne Woodrow Hayes; the incomparable track star Jesse Owens; and now—Maudine, named for Maudine Ormsby, the cow who became Homecoming Queen at Ohio State in 1926.

This time around, approximately 1400 hundred visitors made their way to the Biological Sciences Greenhouse to see our Titan. And, folks were still coming up to the Greenhouse last Friday afternoon to visit Woody2, even though the bloom had closed early on Wednesday. They simply appreciated the chance to see it, even those who knew another one was on the way. Some said, “I definitely will come back to see Maudine, but I just wanted to see Woody2, as well. When does anyone ever get the chance to see not just one Titan, but two!”