The longer I work with carnivorous plants, the more I appreciate the merits of the whole plant, not just the structures used for capturing insect prey. Yes, the pitchers on a Sarracenia pitcher plant are beautiful and exotic, but there’s an equal beauty in the blooms and rhizomes, and further beauty in the plant’s entire life cycle over the space of the year. To understand the plant, you have to view it over its entire growing season, from spring budding to final winter dieback, and not just focus on one tiny part of the life cycle. Don’t take the time to check on the pitcher plant over the entire year, and you miss a lot of the inherent beauty because you’re only focusing on its prime insect-catching period.
This applies to many other plants, including a plant famous for its blooms. The titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum, is best known for its gigantic and foul-smelling flowers, which are rare enough to be newsworthy. When a titan arum in a big greenhouse starts to flower, news crews and general bystanders converge on the flowers much like the flies needed for their pollination. But how many people look at the rest of the plant after the bloom shrivels and dies?
That’s why I have a special love for the extensive crew managing the Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens in Galveston, because they understand this, too. Sure, they could make a big deal about a new A. titanum bloom, but what about the majesty of the full-grown plant?
In most displays of this type, the emphasis is usually on the animals, with the plants being not much more than background. This is completely understandable: we humans in particular and we mammals in general are the end-result of millions of years of pattern recognition encouragement. In most cases, we not only ignore the majority of the flora surrounding the occasional bit of fauna, but we actively block out the flora unless it directly affects us. Think about the last time you went for a walk in woodlands: seeing a toad crossing the path made more of an impression than the trees surrounding that path, didn’t it?
The Moody Gardens titan arum is near the center of the pyramid, and easily accessible when navigating the trails meandering along its floor. The branches stretch well overhead, but the trunk is close enough to touch. Strangely, nobody does: it almost seems disrespectful to do so. Just getting the chance to see a fully-grown titan arum is fascinating enough, but to stand underneath one and view the underside of the foliage…that I could do for hours.
More to follow…