A corpse flower will soon be in full bloom at the University of Minnesota, an event that has been awaited for the last 7 years.
Corpse flowers are scientifically known as “Amorphophallus titanum”, which can be translated as “the misshapen giant phallus”.
This peculiar nomenclature was deemed too inappropriate by Sir David Attenborough, when he had to present the species in his “Private Life of Plants” documentary series, which is why a new term was coined: titan arum.
Strange as the original scientific name might be, it is actually linked to the fact that the plants normally have just one spike inflorescence, which is unbranched and believed to be the largest of its kind worldwide.
That cluster of flowers (referred to as a spadix) is enveloped by a supersized leaf, known as a spathe, just like in the case of other related plants such as calla lilies and cuckoo pints.
This leaf usually endures for approximately a year, and can grow to be up to 20 feet tall, being strongly reminiscent of a palm tree.
What distinguishes titan arum from other similar looking plants is its unbearable carrion odor, resembling that of spoiled fish. The bright red coloring of the spadix, combined with the putrid smell of ammonia or rotting meat, make it seem as if the plant were actually a carcass.
This semblance is further supported by the fact that when the corpse flower is in full bloom, its thermogenic properties allow the inflorescence to get quite warm. Eventually, its temperature hovers at around normal human body temperature, which makes it easier for the sickening aroma to spread.
The carrion scent actually becomes an evolutionary advantage, given the fact that flesh flies, burying beetles, sweat bees and other necrophagus insects are irrepressibly drawn to the plant, assisting its pollination.
Corpse flowers normally grow in the rainforests spread across western Sumatra’s limestone hills, but due to their exceptionally pungent smell and their unusual appearance they have been introduced in various botanical gardens around the world, while also being considered a prized possession for live plant collectors.
The corpse flower whose blooming is now heavily anticipated last spread its petals back in 2008, when it was kept at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory from Como Park.
Now, the foul-smelling plant is still in St Paul, being carefully looked after at the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) Conservatory, at the University of Minnesota.
A public exhibition featuring it has already debuted on Monday, February 1, and visitors can come see the incredibly unusual plant from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
According to Lisa Aston Philander, curator at the CBS Conservatory, a significant tourist turnover is expected the following days, given that rare events of this kind normally attract tens of thousands of people, and are celebrated as local festivals.
Those interested in seeing the Minnesota corpse flower with their own eyes can access cbs.umn.edu/conservatory/corpse-flower for more information regarding the exhibition, and must stand advised that the blooming will only last for a day or two once it begins.
Image Source: Flickr