Exotic Flowers – Historical Introduction
Exotic flowers are a long-time favorite of many people given their attractive and alluring appearance, which is very often so different from that of plants native to North America and Europe that they can seem almost alien. It’s no surprise that they are highly sought-after by gardeners, collectors and botany enthusiasts alike. The appeal of exotic flowers, whether in the garden or your home, or even preserved in a museum, is undeniable.
Discovering new species of exotic flowers was one of the great thrills of early explorers. These intrepid adventurers would encounter mysterious and unusual plants on a frequent basis, along with strange and near-magical animals previously unknown. Many were brought back overseas and presented to royalty, often in hopes of earning an explorer’s bounty of gold, land and title.
A great number of these exotic flowers found their way into the traditions of polite society. For example, the undeniable beauty of orchids made them perfect choices for wedding decorations, and their popularity for matrimonial ceremonies has endured and strengthened over time. Presenting dinner guests with a table centerpiece of exotic flowers was a surefire method of proving one’s refinement and taste.
Some exotic flowers are so truly unique that it’s hard to picture them as something native to this planet. For example, blossoms as tall as a man or wide as a table aren’t usually commonplace in familiar environs, yet can be found in the deepest reaches of jungles and rainforests. Vibrant colors and intoxicating scents abound in the realm of exotic flowers, only adding to their great appeal.
There are several notable species of exotic flowers worth mentioning, both due to their rarity and their striking appearance. We’ve listed here several of them, including descriptions and interesting facts you might not have known.
Exotic Flowers – The Titan Arum
The titan arum, truly deserving of a name linking it to the mythological giants of Greek lore, is one of the largest flowers on the planet. It is common to see them grow beyond eight feet in height, making them taller than even the largest of men.
Native to the jungles of Sumatra, the titan arum was first discovered by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in 1878. Thanks to its fragrance, which can be compared to that of rotting meat, the titan arum is also known as the “corpse flower.” This odor serves a purpose in that it attracts beetles, flies and other insects searching for a meal. They in turn help to pollinate the flower. The smell persists for only about 10 hours after blooming, making this an important time in the plant’s life cycle.
Both male and female flowers grow in the same structure. First the female appear, followed by the male several days later. This prevents self-pollination, which would swiftly reduce local populations. Once the flower has died, a single leaf grows outward from the plant’s body, reaching upwards of twenty feet in height and sixteen feet in breadth. The leaf dies each year and is replaced in a cycle of renewal.
Cultivation of the titan arum results in generally smaller blooms, although some record-setting specimens have been grown. At this time, the current world record for a cultivated titan arum sits at nine feet, six inches in height for the flower.
Exotic Flowers – Rafflesia Arnoldii
The rafflesia arnoldii is the world’s largest flower and a true rarity amongst exotic flowers and plants in general. Its massive bloom grows to three feet in diameter. Found only in the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo, it, like the titan arum, is ever threatened by logging endeavors and urban expansion.
Also like the titan arum, the rafflesia arnoldii emits a fresh carrion stench meant to attract insects to assist in pollination. Because the flower only blooms for several days, and requires the delivery of pollen from a male to a female by an insect, this unlikely occurrence results in the rare appearance of these popular exotic flowers.
One unusual characteristic about this plant is that it shows no normal plant characteristics. No roots, stems or leaves are present. Indeed, the flower has been likened to a fungus in that it grows right out of its host – in this case the tetrastigma vine – and forms a molecular bond with the host cells, allowing for transfer of nutrients. This officially classifies the rafflesia arnoldii as a parasite.
Exotic Flowers – Conclusion
Both of these exotic flowers, despite their unusual appearance and aroma, are treasured gifts of nature. Many botanical gardens include specimens of one or both amongst their rarer varieties, due to the great spectator appeal when they bloom.
Although increasing efforts are being taken to ensure the continued survival of these two exotic flowers, they are still in considerable danger from human expansion. Fortunately, efforts are being taken to find methods of recreating the natural environments of both, specifically the rafflesia arnoldii, which could see them flourish for many years to come.
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