Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Big Stink

There’s been a big stink at the University of Connecticut lately. No, it’s not some scandal or controversy, but the blooming of a Titan Arum – two, in fact – at a university greenhouse. Only twice since the 1930s has this species flowered in the Northeast, and UConn has two in one season.

Natives of Sumatra, Titan Arums bear huge blooms that literally reek. Both in their foul odor and reddish color, the flowers mimic carrion, all in an effort to draw flesh-eating flies to pollinate them.

However, you don’t have to go to UConn or Sumatra to see the same technique in action in our own woods. Early each spring, our wetlands are bursting with Skunk Cabbage flowers, another Arum that uses exactly the same technique – carrion color and scent – to attract flies.

Still another spring stinker is Purple Trillium, a fly-baiter that may qualify as the worst-smelling wildflower in North America. But its odor is not a defense and unlike an Arum, the trillium is not bitter-tasting. Unfortunately, hungry deer won’t turn their noses up at a bad smell, and have been eating our trilliums into oblivion.

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