To save endangered plant species, horticulturalists are using a tactic they’ve borrowed from horse breeders and zookeepers, building breeding registries or “studbooks” to avoid inbreeding. Naturally, they’re starting with a plant with a Latin name that means “large misshapen penis.”
At botanical gardens around the world, Amorphophallus titanum sets off a sensation during its infrequent blooms that come when they will. Best known as the corpse flower because it smells so bad, it has the largest flower of any plant in the world. More gardens than ever in the United States are cultivating this rare horticultural celebrity that draws throngs of visitors to their greenhouses.
But the threatened species is difficult to raise, and with a small number of available specimens to work with, there’s a risk of losing the genetic variety needed to raise hearty corpse flowers in conservatories, and potentially to preserve it in the wild.