A story that stinks: rare corpse flower blooms in Ohio

Michael Santo's picture

This is a smelly story, and one that happens rarely: a corpse flower, which took ten years to reach a maturity at which it could bloom, has bloomed in Ohio.

The corpse flower bloomed at Ohio State University's greenhouse. As one might expect based on its name, the bloom comes complete with an odor of rotting flesh. The plant, native to the Indonesian rainforest, particularly western Sumatra, is about 5-feet-wide and opened a 3-foot-wide dark purple flower early on Saturday.

Corpse flower is the nickname for the plant. It's actually a titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum. It has also been nicknamed the carrion flower or the corpse plant.

The titan arum's scent is designed to attract carrion beetles and Flesh Flies. These insects pollinate the corpse flower. It can reach up to 10 feet in height. Interestingly, when the flower blooms, the tip of the spadix [Wikipedia: In botany, a spadix [1] is a type of spike inflorescence having small flowers borne on a fleshy stem] is approximately human body temperature. That heat helps the scent of the flower volatilize and also helps in providing the illusion of a carcass.

Ohio State University has set up a webcam to display video of the flower. It updates every two minutes, and can be found here.

Ohio State University greenhouse coordinator Joan Leonard said: “[The leaves] began to open just a little bit after 4 p.m. and it was fully open at 9:30 p.m. [Saturday]. It definitely has that lathered meat, roadkill kind of smell. You know when you take out the trash, and it starts to get that smell – like if you put chicken or meat in the garbage – well, intensify that."

Wikipedia says that the corpse flower was first scientifically described in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari. Even in the wild, the plant blooms infrequently. When cultivated, the titan arum flowers even more rarely. In cultivation, the first such corpse plant to flower was at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, in 1889. Since then, the number of blossoms that have been cultivated runs over 100.

In the United States, the first documented blossoms in the were at New York Botanical Garden in 1937 and again in 1939. This flowering inspired the designation of the titan arum as the official flower of the Bronx in 1939. In 2000, the Bronx replaced it with the day lily.

Image Source: Wikipedia

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