Amorphophallus titanum—the botanical mouthful is the Latin name for Titan arum, a Sumatran cousin of the common philodendron. Unlike the diminutive houseplant, Titan lives up to its label by producing giant leaves more than 20 feet long and 50 feet around. Only one leaf appears each growing season, springing from an underground storage organ, or tuber, that can weigh more than 100 pounds. The tropical Titan doesn't do sex very often—just a few times in its 40-year life span—but when it does, it erects a giant inflorescence containing separate male and female flowers.

Last spring, a Titan specimen in a University of Wisconsin, Madison, greenhouse acted on its sexual juices by raising an 8-foot-long floral spike.1 Without a hint of shyness, the Wisconsin botany department shared the intimate event with the rest of the world, opening the greenhouse to visitors and showing off the overheated plant on the...

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