A potent after-smell that hovers around, wrinkles noses and lingers just long enough to raise a few eyebrows. Not quite the American dream now is it. Alas, it’s something well known to even the best amongst us.
As it so happens, this is an issue bigger than just 17-year old lads after sneaking their girlfriends out 5 minutes before the ‘rents return from work.
Amorphophallus titanum (from the Ancient Greek for a misshapen giant phallus) is a plant native to Sumatra which attracts potential pollinators by mimicking the smell of rotting flesh.
A plant which has evolved to survive by closely copying the horrific smell decomposing corpses produce.
Although it is an existence to be envied by precious few, Carrion beetles survive by eating dead flesh. These saprophagous and nocturnal little critters are the target audience for this remarkable plant. Some of the chemicals produced are also present in cheese, sweaty socks, rotting fish and even human faeces (…) see them flock in in droves.
Not only does it have a rancid smell to attract insects but Amorphophallus titanum also has the dubious honour of possessing the largest inflorescence in the plant kingdom. At ten foot tall it is the same height as a basketball hoop which, by coincidence, is the average length of the biggest intromittent organ in the animal kingdom; the blue whales’ penis.
With natural selection, evolution, pollination and everything else we learned in GCSE (or O-levels, to those of you here who may be over a certain age) biology all them years ago we know that plants and animals have a long-standing arrangement which benefits both parties.
Amorphophallus titanum is just one rather special, and smelly, example.