Carolyn’s Online Magazine
A CORPSE FLOWER
BLOOMS AT ROLLINS COLLEGE
We thought we could wait. But like most births, the timing was unpredictable.
The corpse flower wasn’t due to bloom for 3-5 days after we originally expected to leave Orlando, Florida. We might have remained in the city another day, possibly 2 days, but there was no guarantee the plant would give birth to its bloom during that time. In fact, it was unlikely. My husband and I wouldn’t be in Orlando when it blooms. We will keep track of it and try to watch it bloom on time lapse photography.
I first learned about the expected blooming on April 14, 2015. My husband Monte and I had flown from Arnold Palmer Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to Orlando Airport. Monte’s cousin Karen and her husband Bob met us at the airport to take us to our downtown motel room.
Karen and I sat in the back seat of the white truck. During our conversation she mentioned in passing that the corpse flower was about to bloom in, she thought, the next couple of days.
“The corpse flower?” I said. I knew about it because I’d written a devotion about it in 2008: THE CORPSE FLOWER (Amorphophallus titanum)—A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING-Is in Bloom
I recalled that these flowers are rare in the United States and there was is a long time between bloomings of this plant having an aroma of rotting flesh.
We met with Karen and Monte’s other cousins for lunch. One of his cousins, Gail Jones, works at Rollins College in Winter Garden, where the corpse flower was waiting to bloom in “The Greenhouse.” She took us to see the flower after our meal and Monte and I saw and photographed the plant-in-waiting.
The next morning, when I contacted botanist Alan Chryst, he graciously granted me a phone interview about what is being called “Rollins Little Gem.”
“The corpse flower is on the home stretch,” Alan said. “It’s 62 inches tall now. It’s growth has been slowing for a couple of weeks. Before that it would grow 1.5 inches if I left the greenhouse in the morning and returned in the afternoon. You could almost see it growing. It grew 5 inches between Tuesday (4/14) and today (4/16).”
- “It is very hard to determine when the flower will bloom,” said Mary Bauschelt, a horticulturist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Botany Greenhouse. “We know that whenever growth slows, the flower is nearing bloom…Eventually, growth will actually cease and [the flower] will open.”
Eleven years ago Alan, who had sent out an offer to exchange cocoa seedlings for a corpse plant bulb, received two from the Association of Education and Research, Greenhouse Curator.
“Believe it or not, I knew it was a phenomenon when it bloomed, and I wanted it to bring attention to the greenhouse. And it’s working,” Alan said.
During the years he waited for the corpse flower to bloom it remained in a vegetative stage, producing leaves that were slender and symmetrical—and resembled a tree.
“The leaf grows, dies down, and the plant rests for three months before growing again.”
Each time the plant produces a leaf it is taller than the previous one. During these leafings the plant manages to store sufficient energy to produce its massive bloom.
During the second week in March this year Alan noticed a bulge in the leaf and realized his corpse plant would bloom for the first time this year. He expects the bloom to be 2-4 feet wide.
The bloom’s size can be predicted by the length of its leaf and the size of its core, the underground part of the plant. This plant has a 16-inch core that weighs 35 pounds and a leaf 6 foot tall.
Alan will hand pollinate the corpse plant, probably with a Q-tip, during the 12-hour period when the female flowers inside the bloom are receptive to pollination. To do so he will have to endure the plant’s putrid odor. It smells like rotting bodies.
Alan has three other corpse plant starts in the Hauck Research Center greenhouse. One is the same age as the corpse plant that is blooming, and could possibly bloom next year.
The other two he started from seed. They are a year and a half old.
There is a time-lapse camera focused on the plant waiting for its blossom to burst forth. To visit the greenhouse and watch the time lapse progress of the corpse plant blooming click on http://www.rollins.edu/greenhouse/ .
On our second (unexpected) visit to the greenhouse the corpse plant had made progress toward blooming. Some color was showing on the edge of the bloom.
Monte and I couldn’t remain in Orlando until the plant bloomed. We had to leave. However, we hope to view the birth of the bloom on the time lapse camera. After all, if we miss it, it could be a dozen years before we have another opportunity to see it.