Corpse plant cultivation work ‘such a joy’

Dunedin Botanic Garden staff and the University of Otago botany department’s Associate Prof Janice Lord are part of international moves to save the rare corpse plant by trying to produce its seeds in cultivation.

"It’s such a joy to get up close and personal with this incredible species and have the skills and facilities to aid its survival," Prof Lord said.

"I’m very proud that Dunedin is part of a worldwide community trying to produce corpse flower seeds in cultivation," she added.

Associate Prof Janice Lord with vials of corpse plant pollen frozen at -80degC at the University...
Associate Prof Janice Lord with vials of corpse plant pollen frozen at -80degC at the University of Otago botany department. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
When the corpse plant (Amorphophallus titanium) at the Dunedin Botanic Garden flowered for the first time in 2018, Prof Lord had suggested to the garden staff that she collect pollen and freeze it, in order to protect it and to pollinate another flower of the same species.

‘I was surprised and wonder-struck by the textures of the enormous fluted spathe (collar) around the spadix (central column)," she said.

Collecting that first lot of pollen was "hugely exciting", but when the corpse plants in Auckland and Christchurch flowered last year she did not learn of this early enough to use the Dunedin pollen to pollinate their plants.

"The female florets deep inside the tube of the corpse flower are only receptive to pollen on the first night it opens — so you only have one shot to pollinate them."

When the Dunedin plant — the world’s most southerly flowering corpse plant — had flowered again this year, it was decided to test if it could be pollinated with its own pollen, and then collect more pollen to hopefully use on another plant, she said.

When the Dunedin flower opened last Friday, she thawed the tubes of 2018 pollen and took them to the Winter Garden.

Garden collection curator Stephen Bishop used a large bread knife that night to cut a “porthole” in the 3cm thick base of the structure and Prof Lord showed six botany students and garden staff how to paint the pollen on to the glistening female florets.

Corpse plant pollen sent south by courier from the Auckland Domain last week after a recent flowering had been mislaid in the mail, and had not reached Dunedin, where it could have resulted in "little corpse seeds" growing in the garden, she said.

Last Saturday, Mr Bishop had placed tinfoil inside the base of the flower structure to catch the pollen released when the male florets opened on the second night.

On Sunday morning she had brought this pollen back to the -80degC freezer at the department.

The corpse plant was rare in its native Sumatra, and also rare in cultivation.

"If we can cross-pollinate two of the plants in New Zealand and produce viable seed we can help preserve this wondrous plant," she said.


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