June 7, 2011

Corpse flower blooms overnight Wednesday

News and Information

People lined up Thursday to get a look and a whiff of the blooming corpse flower at the UW Botany Greenhouse. At right is Doug Ewing, greenhouse manager. At left, a visitor samples the then-fading foul aroma of Amorphophallus titanum.

Mary Levin

People lined up Thursday to get a look and a whiff of the blooming corpse flower at the UW Botany Greenhouse. At right is Doug Ewing, greenhouse manager. At left, a visitor samples the then-fading foul aroma of Amorphophallus titanum.

Update: The corpse flower bloomed overnight June 8. The greatest stench occurred around 3 a.m. Thursday and has tapered off since then.

*****

An Amorphophallus titanum, also known as a corpse flower in its native Sumatra and elsewhere because of its foul odor, is inching closer to blooming in the University of Washington botany greenhouse. The event is expected to occur within the next several days.

Corpse flowers get their nickname because when they bloom they emit a stench like rotting meat. The smell is the way the plant attracts insects such as carrion beetles and flies to pollinate the plant.  The aroma is strongest the first evening it blooms but residual fragrance may be present the morning of the next day, something visitors have likened to the smell of latrines, gym bags or overcooked cabbage.

Monitor the progress:
Check UW biology departments Facebook page.

Public hours at the greenhouse:
Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The botany greenhouse is next to Kincaid Hall on Stevens Way, the main road through campus. There is no public parking at the greenhouse.

A visitor to the UW Botany Greenhouse on Thursday gets a good whiff of the Amorphophallus titanum, otherwise known as the corpse flower. The foul odor it's known for had dissipated some by Thursday noon, but not completely.

After hours:
Even when the greenhouse is closed, one can view the corpse flower through the window at the end of the greenhouse farthest from Kincaid.

Cultivation:
The corpse flower has been cultivated by UW botany greenhouse staff Doug Ewing, Paul Beeman, Jeanette Milne and Erin Forbush. UWs first corpse flower bloom was in 1999 and it was the first in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. While coaxing the plant to bloom has become more common, much about how to trigger a bloom remains unknown. Ewing says he and his team have been fortunate to have 14 previous plants bloom, which may be more than any other university or botanic garden in the United States. Not all the UW blooms have been publicized. The last UW bloom was in 2008.

Learning:
For researchers and students from the UW and elsewhere, this is a chance to learn and teach about the diversity in the plant kingdom, Ewing says. Amorphophallus titanum is cultivated by botanists because it is becoming scarce in the wild due to habitat loss and being harvested for food and folk medicine.

Additional facts:

  • Amorphophallus titanum is also known as Titan Arum, corpse flower or Devils Tongue.
  • The plant is native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
  • While the aroma is produced only briefly, the blossom can last two to four days in reasonably good shape.
  • 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 columnar structure rising out of the center of the plant. Unfolding around the spadix like an upside down umbrella is the maroon-tinged spathe.
  • During blooming the mitochondria that power cell growth in the spadix change function and, instead of starches being used to grow plant material, those starches create heat that triggers what the UW botanists term “exquisitely smelly oils.”
  • There are more than 170 species in the genus Amorphophallus, many with distinctive odor and heating properties.
  • As of Monday, the UW plant was about 55 inches tall, and could grow taller before it blooms.
  • This plant was started as a seed in 1995, flowered in 2003 and then went dormant as a 50 pound tuber. Corpse flower tubers can weigh up to 150 pounds. One unusual aspect of this bloom is that the tuber remained dormant for 2 ½ years before starting to grow early this spring, Ewing said.

###

For more information:
Ewing, 206-543-0436, dewing@u.washington.edu