UW Today

This is an archived article.

May 29, 2002

Smell like rotting animal flesh filling UW botany greenhouse again

News and Information

WHAT:
An Amorphophallus titanum, also known as a corpse flower in its native Sumatra and elsewhere because of its foul odor, began blooming late Wednesday afternoon in the greenhouse operated by the University of Washington’s botany department. In its native habitat, the smell attracts a variety of insects — primarily carrion beetles — that pollinate the plant. The smell typically lasts less than a day.

PUBLIC VIEWING (SMELLING):
The 5?-foot-tall blossom may topple over in its first day — as has happened at a few other places — but could last until the end of the week. Find out the corpse flower’s status by calling (206) 543-0436. Weekdays while it’s blooming, the greenhouse will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The greenhouse is on Stevens Way and visitors are asked to go to the entrance closest to Kincaid Hall. After hours or on the weekend, the flower can be seen through the glass at the southeast end of the greenhouse, farthest from Kincaid.

THIRD AT UW:
Fewer than 25 corpse flowers have ever been coaxed into blooming in the United States. This is the third one to bloom at the UW; the first was in the summer of 1999 and the second was a year ago. Doug Ewing, greenhouse manager, says he’d like to have one bloom every year as part of the UW plant collection that allows students here to see and work with plants that students at most other institutions only get to view in textbooks. Last year there were so many members of the general public who said they regretted missing a chance to see the corpse flower that, in addition to UW students, the greenhouse staff is again inviting the public to stop by, Ewing says.

PARKING:
There is no public parking near the greenhouse, which is on the main road through central campus. Members of the public need to park in the Central Plaza Parking Garage off 15th Avenue Northeast, the South Campus Parking Garage behind the Health Sciences Center or the West Campus Parking Garage at Northeast Pacific Street and University Way.

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For more information, reporters can leave messages at 206-543-0436 to talk to Ewing or Nick Stephens, a UW undergraduate in botany and biology.

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ADDITIONAL FACTS
– Amorphophallus titanum is also known as Titan Arum, corpse flower or Devil’s Tongue.
– The plant is native to the tropical rainforests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
– The goal of botanical gardens and university greenhouses is to study Amorphophallus titanum in cultivated settings because they are becoming scarce in the wild. The plants have been heavily harvested for food and medicine and, because of their phallic appearance, also are valued by some as aphrodisiacs or cures for impotence. For researchers and students from the UW and elsewhere, this is a chance to learn about diversity in the plant kingdom.
– The corpse flowers that have bloomed at the UW were grown from seed and nurtured in the greenhouse for more than six years.
– The “blossom” is more properly called a compound flower, or an inflorescence, because it consists of many flowers. Individual flowers are grouped around the base of the spadix, the tubular structure rising out of the center of the plant. Unfolding around the spadix like a cup is the maroon-tinged spathe.
– During blooming the mitochondria that power cell growth in the spadix change function and, instead of using starches to grow stems and leaves, those starches are used to create heat that triggers what the UW botanists term “exquisitely smelly oils.”
– It is not possible for the plant to self-pollinate because the male and female flowers mature at different times.
– There are more than 170 species of Amorphophallus and many have distinctive odor and heating properties.
– The UW plant is about five and half feet tall, and could grow taller while it blooms. The tallest ever recorded was more than 10 feet.


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