The United States Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden is a living plant museum that informs visitors about the importance, and often irreplaceable value, of plants to the well-being of humans and to the earth’s fragile ecosystems. During the late 18th Century it was the dream of a number of key political figures, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, to have a national botanic garden at the seat of government. In 1820, President James Monroe set aside 5 acres for a “national greenhouse,” and the U.S. Botanic Garden was established by an act of Congress later that year, making it the oldest continually operating botanic garden in this country. The garden “was formally placed under the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress in 1856 and has been administered through the Office of the Architect of the Capitol since 1934. It is located near the U.S. Capitol Building at 1st Street & Maryland Avenue (MAP) in southwest D.C.

The Botanic Garden grows and displays a variety of plants. The staff keeps computerized records on important botanical collections used for exhibition, study and exchange with other institutions. The Garden’s noteworthy collections include economic plants, orchids, begonias, carnivorous plants, cacti and succulents, bromeliads, epiphytes, palms, and cycads and ferns set in a Dinosaur Garden. However, of all the different plants and exhibits, my favorite remains the recent blooming of a rare titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

Public viewing of titan arum plant in bloom has occurred only a limited number of times in the United States, and this unique plant coming into flower is as spectacular as it is rare. The time between flowerings is unpredictable, which can span from a few years to a few decades. And when the special event happens, the bloom lasts only 24 to 48 hours, before it quickly collapses. Some people travel around the world hoping to see a titan arum at the moment it flowers. For botanists and the public, being “in the right place at the right time” to see one of these magnificent plants in bloom can be an once-in-a-lifetime treat. There have been only 150 recorded instances of blooming since records began.

The particular plant that was on display at the Botanic Garden is approximately eight years old, and is the largest specimen of the fourteen plants in the Botanic Garden’s possession. The plant on display was the size of a penny the last time there had been a blooming specimen at the Botanic Garden. But by the time it was on display, it was approximately 250 pounds, almost nine feet tall, and was experiencing its first ever bloom.

Part of the magic of the titan arum comes from its great size – it is the largest known unbranched flower in the world. In its natural environment it can grow to a height of 12 feet, and when blooming has been known to grow an inch per hour. However, it is more widely known for its odoriferous qualities. It is commonly referred to as the corpse flower because its fetid odor is often compared to the stench of decomposing flesh. The botanist charged with the care of this particular plant has stated that it gives off a scent “like a very dead elephant.” Its putrid smell is most potent during peak bloom at night into the early morning. The flower also generates heat, which allows the stench to travel further. This combination of heat and smell efficiently attracts pollinators, such as dung and carrion beetles, from across long distances.

Even if a titan arum is not in bloom, I highly recommend visiting the United States Botanic Garden. And as an added bonus, when you visit the Botanic Garden at any other time, it does not smell like decomposing flesh.

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Comments
  1. Beachbums1 says:

    Love the Botanic Gardens ~ especially on a cold winter day when it’s so warm inside!

    Liked by 1 person

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