Mr Tiny is coming out at Paignton Zoo – and he’s likely to make a great big stink about it. Mr Tiny is the latest Titan arum to bloom at the charity zoo and – while he’s not the biggest – he could be among the latest ever to flower.
Paignton Zoo Head Gardener Catherine Mortimer said: “In the UK they almost always flower between May and September, so late October is definitely a surprise. We knew this was a flower bud, though, and not just a stalk – they look the same, but there are subtle differences. We’ve become pretty good at telling the difference.”
Halloween would be the perfect time for Mr Tiny to do his thing. Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) blooms can be up to 3 metres high and 3 metres in circumference and smell like rotting meat. American scientists have found that the smell includes chemicals found in limburger cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks and faeces. Zoo experts think he may bloom between Halloween and Fireworks Night.
Mr Tiny’s increasing weight has been watched and recorded by his attentive horticultural carers. In 2015 his corm or tuber was under 2 kilos; when he was re-potted in 2016 he had grown to 17 kilos. He was last re-potted in May this year, and that’s when he weighed in at 24 kilos, with a height of 19 centimetres and a width of 43 centimetres. Yet he IS tiny compared to previous Paignton Zoo Titans, which have weighed between 44 kilos and 56 kilos.
Even so, he’s now the weight of two gold bars.
In 2012, Paignton Zoo was the first zoological collection in the UK to have a Titan arum bloom. The gardens team succeeded again in 2015 and saw two more bloom in 2017. They were able to pollinate one of these, and shared seeds with other zoos and botanical gardens. 2018 saw a fifth, Audrey II – the Zoo’s first autumn Titan and at over 235 centimetres, the tallest bud so far. In December last year zoo gardeners gave their colleagues at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire a Titan arum corm.
The zoo’s Curator of Plants and Gardens, Alex Brotherton, said: “Our success with Titans has been great for fostering links with other botanical organisations and gaining recognition for our horticultural efforts.”
The plant comes from the rainforests of Sumatra and is a member of the Arum family. Its conservation status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants has recently been increased from Vulnerable to Endangered. It has one of the largest flowers in the world; the bloom – correctly, an inflorescence – is green on the outside and bright red inside, with ribbed sides and a frilled edge. Due to its odour – said to be like rotting meat – it’s known as a carrion flower, and has been dubbed corpse flower or corpse plant. It emits the strong smell at night to attract pollinators.
Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.
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