Plant Biology: Pearson New International Edition
Among the most wonderful plants in the world is the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), a native of the rain forests of Sumatra, in Indonesia. The titan arum is famous because it produces the largest known cluster of flowers (inflorescence), which may be 9 feet tall and 3–4 feet in diameter. When it blooms, which is but rarely, thousands of people flock to see the botanical extravaganza. The titan arum also produces a giant leaf that grows as tall as 20 feet and up to 15 feet wide. Titan arum can be grown in greenhouses from a huge tuber—an underground stem—that can weigh over 170 pounds. It is truly a titanic plant.
Plant biologists also appreciate the many ways that the titan arum dramatically displays the important roles of plants in nature. Like many other flowering plants, its flowers attract insect pollinators, which carry pollen from one plant to another. But to attract pollinators, the titan arum produces an incredibly powerful odor that smells like rotting fish to people. The odor is so strong and bad that titan arum is also known as the “corpse flower.” If the flowers are pollinated, bright red fruits develop that are attractive to birds, which digest the fruit flesh and spread the seeds.
The titan arum thus illustrates plant evolution—like all other life-forms, the titan arum has become adapted to its environment in ways that maximize survival and reproduction. The titan arum’s lifestyle is also a striking instance of the many ways in which Earth’s organisms interact not only with their physical environments but also with each other—their ecology.
The use of DNA science indicates that titan arum is a member of a plant group having human uses. Calla lilies and anthuriums, often used as cut flowers, are relatives of the titan arum, as is the common houseplant Philodendron.
In this text, many other examples of fascinating plants, their associations with other organisms, and relevance to human affairs will be described. Like the titan arum, other plant examples will illustrate basic biological concepts in evolution, ecology, and DNA science—three major themes of this text.
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