It sounds like the opening line of a cheesy joke, but it was the question facing gardeners at Paignton Zoo. A Titan arum plant was about to bloom, and it was in need of a name. So they asked the public on social media. And the answer? Audrey II.
Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) blooms can be up to 3 metres high and 3 metres in circumference and smell like rotting meat. 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.
Catherine Mortimer, Head Gardener at Paignton Zoo, said: “Our fifth Titan arum bloom is in Crocodile Swamp opposite one of the pools. When you stand looking at the plant, a crocodile creeps up behind you, which is a little unnerving!”
This plant has flowered before, in 2015, and took the gardens team by surprise this year. Catherine: “This is our first autumn bloom. We thought it was going to be a leaf – then it turned into a flower!” At 235cm tall, it is now officially Paignton Zoo’s tallest ever Titan bud.
People voted on the Paignton Zoo Facebook page, choosing between: Audrey II (from the stage musical and film Little Shop of Horrors); Kronos (a Titan from Greek mythology); Hyperion (also a Titan from Greek mythology); and StarFire – from the TV show Teen Titans. Other Paignton Zoo Titans have names, including Olympia and Tiny Tim.
Catherine again: “It is great for us to be able to talk about horticulture at Paignton Zoo. We are a combined zoological and botanical garden, the plants are as important as the animals. This is a really good opportunity to remind people of that. The whole gardens team has worked hard on this and should be very proud of the results.”
The plant – from the rainforests of Sumatra and a member of the Arum family – is classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. 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.