Botanical illustrator, Mara Menahan, drawing the Titan Arum flower bud at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
Chronicling the Largest Flower in the World
By Annette Bartlett-Golden
Last month I wrote about viewing the Titan Arum, the largest flower in the world, at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. During my visit to the Titan Arum, placed in the conservatory of the Botanic Garden, I was intrigued to see a staff member at an easel drawing the flower bud. When I asked her about the drawings, Mara Menahan introduced herself as the botanical illustrator for the US Botanic Garden and explained that she was making daily drawings of the Titan Arum to record its growth.
“The US Botanic Garden has a strong commitment to botanical illustration”, Mara told me, and for good reason. While photos can be helpful, there are often shadows, blurry spots and other conditions that obscure important details. Accurate, technical illustrations of plants based on observation clearly depict all parts of a plant and have long been relied upon by botanists. In fact, Maura is part of a long tradition of people carefully drawing plants. Herbals, books describing plants and their uses, often with drawings and paintings of the plants, go back as far as ancient times in China, Europe, Egypt and India.
Mara Menahan drawing in the conservatory of U.S. Botanical Garden.
So how did Mara get into this deep-rooted profession, I wondered. “I grew up being outside and playing in the woods. My grandmother is a rancher, and she taught me how to identify plants on her land,” she recounted in 5 Questions for the Illustrator Who’s Spent Two Weeks Drawing DC’s Corpse Flower by Sarah Stodder in the Washingtonian. Deeply interested in conservation of the environment, Mara continued “I realized that the science about conservation was already out, and that there was actually a storytelling and communication issue.” Working as a botanical illustrator at a botanic garden allows her to help visitors learn about plants in new ways.
You can read much more about botanical illustration in an article titled Better than a thousand words: Botanical artists blend science and aesthetics at: http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/49/8/602
The Titan Arum flower bud at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
The Largest Flower in the World
by Annette Bartlett-Golden
When I was at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to see one of the largest flowers in the world: the amorphophallus titanium. The enormous flower bud was on display in the Conservatory and was then 6 feet 2 inches high! A week later, during its peak bloom time, it measured an incredible 7 feet 4 inches!! Also known as Titan Arum and the Corpse Flower because of its odiferous bloom, this spectacular plant hails from the island jungles of Sumatra in the Pacific. There it grows even taller.
The peculiar growth habit of the plant can spans decades. Every year the Titan Arum throws up a single leaf resembling a palm tree which grows to about 10 to 15 feet high before dying back. This process creates energy which is stored in the plant’s corm, similar to a bulb. When the plant finally has enough energy in its corm, it will produce a single flower ranging in color from red to purple and lasting only a day or two after fully opening. During the bloom time, a stinky scent emanates from the blossom.
Placard at the United States Botanic Garden near the Titan Arum flower bud.
Because it took six years for the Titan Arum at the United States Botanic Garden to bloom, it was a much celebrated occasion. The museum extended visiting hours late into the evening to allow more people to see the extraordinary display. I’m grateful for the late hours because I was one of those evening visitors and viewing the enormous flower was a memorable moment!
Annette Bartlett-Golden paints a wide range of subjects from landscapes to animals and makes abstract works with paper. Using vibrant colors, she imparts a sense of immediacy, vivacity and optimism to her paintings and paper collages.