The UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens is celebrating a rare - and significant - botanical accomplishment as two Titan Arums will bloom within one month.
Earlier this spring, more than 2,000 visitors came to see Rotney the Magnifiscent, the University’s third Titan Arum, before and as it bloomed on May 3. Not to be outdone by his floral “twin,” the Botanical Gardens’ other mature Titan Arum, Odie, has bloomed - for the second time in its lifespan, with its flower expected to last only into Friday.
According to Tammy Blume, manager of UNC Charlotte’s McMillan Greenhouse, two Titan Arums blooming in the same month at UNC Charlotte is unprecedented.
Odie, named in honor of Odoardo Beccari, the Italian naturalist who discovered the Titan Arum in Sumatra in 1878, first bloomed on July 17, 2015. As it did, it unfurled its massive bloom throughout the evening, filling the greenhouse with the plant’s characteristic odor of dead animal mixed with burnt sugar. The University’s first such plant – named Bella – bloomed in 2007 and 2010.
To reproduce, Titan Arums need pollen from a second plant. On their native Indonesian island of Sumatra, carrion beetles move pollen from one plant to another, attracted by the stench as the bloom opens. In captivity, however, Titan Arums are few and far between. Not only are there no carrion beetles to carry pollen, usually there is no second bloom to receive the pollen.
The pollination of the Titan Arum is noteworthy for the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, which was first to bloom this rare plant in the Carolinas as well as first in North America to achieve pollination with fresh, or unfrozen, pollen. When Odie blooms, Tammy Blume will attempt to pollinate it with pollen extracted from Rotney earlier in May, representing the first time the University will pollinate two of its own Titan Arums. In the past, the University has used pollen from other universities and botanical gardens.
For 50 years, the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens has been a living classroom for students and a horticultural and botanical asset for the campus and greater community. The green heart of the University, which is open to the public and offers 6,000 plant species over 10 acres, has carved out a niche as a center of botany and horticulture in the greater Charlotte region.
“Our collection of native carnivorous plants includes everything from Venus flytraps to pitcher plants and sundews,” said Jeff Gillman, director of the Botanical Gardens. “Perhaps our most interesting collections are our rhododendrons and azaleas. We have thousands of these in the Van Landingham Glen, and they put on an amazing show when they bloom in the spring. The gardens were actually started by the local rhododendron society, so this is our oldest collection.”
Expanding public outreach is a priority. “Our plant collections and our staff and faculty expertise are outstanding, yet we could do so much more to meet the needs of our campus and broader community through the expansion of our facilities to provide more instructional, demonstration and event space,” said Nancy Gutierrez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.
As part of Exponential: The Campaign for UNC Charlotte, the Botanical Gardens is seeking funding for a 15,000-square-foot visitor center and conservatory to serve as a gateway to this green heart of campus.
“The foundation of life is built upon the diverse plants that cover the Earth,” said Gutierrez. “Through our Botanical Gardens, our community gains an appreciation of the symbiotic relationship that exists between people and plants. In this living classroom, we explore the scientific aspects of nature, and also the cultural, artistic and humanistic roles that plants play in our lives."