Our corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum, bloomed for the first time in Crystal Bridge Visitor lobby starting Sunday, April 3. Our director of horticulture, Nate Tschaenn, got this plant as a seedling eight and a half years ago and patiently waited for this moment. It was glorious!
Bloom date: Sunday, April 3, in the 5pm hour.
Admission: It is FREE and can be seen in our lobby. The Inasmuch Crystal Bridge Conservatory is closed for renovation and will be reopening in the fall. There is not an admission put we are recommending a suggested donation of $5 or more that will go to the Myriad Gardens Foundation. You can donate online here.
Hours: Back to regular hours, 10am-5pm, Wednesday, April 6
Scientific name: Amorphophallus titanum, the titan arum, is a flowering plant in the family Araceae.
Name: Crystal. Named after the Crystal Bridge Conservatory. It is common tradition to name titan arum plants when they bloom.
Origin: Native to the rainforests of western Sumatra, Indonesia.
Bloom Size: The titan arum is actually an inflorescence with a cluster of flowers hidden at the bottom of its spike. The first bloom is generally 4-6 feet tall. It’s the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. The largest branched inflorescence belongs to a palm, and the largest solitary flower belongs to a parasitic plant also called a corpse plant, Rafflesia.
Odor: The stench is to attract its pollinators, carrion beetles and flies, who are tricked into visiting thinking it’s something rotting they can lay their eggs in. It reeks of rotting flesh and death when in bloom.
This is edited text from our friends at the Chicago Botanic Garden:
In 1878, an Italian botanist named Odoardo Beccari “discovered” the titan arum in the dense equatorial rainforests of the island of Sumatra. Although the tubers that he sent to Florence died, some seeds survived, and a single seedling was sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It flowered in 1889. But only recently has the horticulture world had success in raising the corpse flower in cultivation.
A. It takes seven to ten years for a single corpse flower to gather enough energy to begin its bloom cycle. It is a rare event when a corpse flower is in full bloom.
A. There are three main clues we look for when determining the peak bloom. First, as the arum “powers up” its bloom cycle, it grows several inches per day. When the titan arum gets ready to open, that growth rate slows noticeably. Second, the two protective modified leaves (called bracts) that encircle the base of the spathe begin to shrivel and dry up. In the days before full bloom, they fall off—first one, then the other. That’s a sign that the bloom is likely to happen. Finally, the frilly leaf called a spathe—which was tightly wound around the towering spadix as it shot up—starts to loosen its grip as bloom time nears, revealing the crazy-beautiful maroon color inside. Once the spathe begins to loosen, a bloom is imminent. It’s really not an exact science, but these clues give us a general time frame for the bloom.
A. The plant generally blooms for 24 to 36 hours. After the spathe opens fully, the bloom usually lasts until the following afternoon, or in some cases, the following morning.
A. When a corm (an underground giant tuber) is grown from seed, it can take a while to reach the size necessary to support a bloom, usually about ten years. Once the plant has bloomed, however, the corm is already at a size to support another bloom, so it may take only three to seven years before it stores up enough energy to bloom again—or may rebloom much sooner, every two to three years.
A: We have heard tales of some titan arums in their natural habitats growing 10 to 12 feet tall with a bloom diameter of up to 5 feet, but more typically in cultivation, an arum reaches 6 to 8 feet in height before the spathe unfurls into a bloom, with a diameter close to 3 feet.
While it looks like a 6- to 8-foot-tall flower, the titan arum’s bloom is not really a flower: Technically, the bloom is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. The tall spadix (flower spike) is wrapped by a spathe (a single, frilly, modified leaf). In its vegetative form, each Amorphophallus titanum looks like a small tree, but is actually a single umbrella-like leaf. The leaf stalk is called the petiole, and is covered in branch-like rachis, supporting the many leaflets. Titan arum leaves can grow 8 to 15 feet tall.
A. Unlike the spectacular (and similarly long-awaited bloomer) the century plant, or Agave americana, blooming is not the end of the life cycle for the titan arum. If pollinated, it will produce fruit for the next nine months or so. Once the fruit is ripe, it will die back, and after a year or so of dormancy, will emerge as a leaf for the next few cycles until it is ready to bloom again.
A. That smell is the reason it’s called the corpse flower. Chemically, the scent is a combination of dimethyl trisulfide, isovaleric acid, dimethyl disulfide, benzyl alcohol, indole, and trimethylamine—or a combination of Limburger cheese, garlic, rotting fish, and smelly feet. The plant is trying hard to attract its native Sumatran pollinators: carrion beetles and flesh flies that are attracted to the stench of decaying, rotten meat (the kind of place they’d want to lay their eggs). The precise combination of odors is meant to mimic an exact state of decomposition—something that is not fresh, but not so rotten that it is no longer attractive.
A. The scent lasts for a few hours, and is often strongest in the wee hours of the morning. The odor is produced by the spadix, and can be detected by pollinators up to an acre away, but is not overpowering—our volunteers (and visitors) will be grossed out by it, but it’s unlikely anyone will become physically ill.
A. That’s when carrion beetles and flesh flies are active and crawling about. It’s possible that night breezes could also factor in—carrying the scent farther into the canopy at night. Inside the tightly wrapped spathe, the plant uses stored energy from the corm to heat up internally to more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The area of the spadix that is smelly, the appendix, is above all of the flowers (male and female) and is the part that sticks out of the spathe before it opens. Some scientists hypothesize that when the spadix heats up, the rising heat acts to draw the air up from below. This convection of smelly air above the plant then spreads the scent though the forest into the canopy, towards pollinators.