Sooo I’ve been super lazy and didn’t post anything on this blog all summer. I wish I could promise to be better from now on, but I’m afraid these things just come and go ;). In the mean time I’ve finished my master’s thesis and graduated! I started my job as a research assistant at the University of Cambridge last month and I’m really grateful to have been given the opportunity to stay in this wonderful place and do awesome research. I’m now also working on PhD applications, and really hoping I’ll get an offer to stay for a few more years!
This post is going to be all about plants. I’m going to make an attempt at dusting the cobwebs off the, often thought of as boring, topic of botany. I’ve been visiting the Botanic Gardens here at Cambridge pretty frequently lately (thanks for the membership, Dad 🙂 ) and have taken many amazing pictures of the wide range of plants on display there. Therefore I figured I might as well start a series akin to the Art History Refreshers I’ve been posting (there will be more!) about botany. So here’s part 1!
I absolutely must feature the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum; meaning ‘giant misshapen phallus’ :P) that unexpectedly flowered at the Gardens this July. Titan arum is native to the Indonesian island Sumatra, but has become rare because of deforestation. This plant is also known as ‘Corpse Flower’ for the stink it emits when it flowers, which many describe as akin to that of rotting meat. The smell attracts many beetles and flies that can pollinate the plant. Titan arum only flowers once every decade, and the garden staff had not expected it to happen just yet, as the corm was below the minimum flowering weight of 15 kg. Therefore, this specimen was dubbed ‘Tiny’ titan arum.
The phallus-shaped flower is not actually a flower. In fact, it is an inflorescence. It is surrounded at its base by the spathe, a big leaf which is dark red on the inside upon flowering. Inside the spathe, there are rings of tiny flowers. When the plant was in full flowering (on July 18th & 19th) the Gardens stayed open until midnight, so that as many visitors as possible could admire it. During this time the garden researchers also made an attempt at self-pollinating the plant. This used to be considered impossible, but there have been rare cases in which this worked. Let’s hope it works this time as well – the more of these super weird stinky plants, the better!
What many visitors undoubtedly have missed, though, is the second titan arum present in the same room in the glasshouses. Above you can see a picture I took of this second titan arum. After the large flowering structure dies, a single leaf sprouts the size of a small tree. Below you can see a close-up of this leaf. Here you can really see that it is indeed a massive leaf. The botanist who originally discovered this thought it was a tree trunk covered in lichen.
Fun fact: Cambridge alumnus David Attenborough gave this plant the popular name ‘titan arum’ as he thought it was inappropriate to repeatedly say ‘Amorphophallus’ on television. 😛
Around the same time, the foxgloves were also doing very well. Foxgloves’ flowers all have five united petals, but there is still quite a lot of variation between them! One of my favorite plants in the Gardens is the woolly foxglove (Linaria reticulata), native to North Africa. I think the pink and yellow of the flowers contrast each other beautifully. This plant was absolutely gorgeous in summer as you can see.
I’ll end with a sneak peak of my next post. Can you guess which city this is?