March 19, 2012

Amorphophallus Titanum

I'm not sure I have a real "life list," but if I did, smelling a giant Indonesian corpse flower would definitely be on it. In an unexpected twist of good fortune, I can now say that I've been-there-done-that...but no, I did not get the t-shirt.

This morning Cornell's own Amorphophallus Titanum (a fancy name for enormous deformed penis) bloomed for the first time in its history. These plants flower only once every several years and each bloom only lasts a couple of days so when it was clear the big event was imminent, excited emails went out to all Cornellians inviting them to visit the unusual plant. You can tune in too via a live video stream (the live stream is now disabled, but you can still view time-lapse sequences of the Titan's bloom at Cornell's Titan Arum Blog). The flower's giant phallus will likely wilt soon, so check it out while you can.

Rob and I went to the greenhouse yesterday when the flower was still closed.

Titan Arum is given the nickname "corpse plant" because of the awful rotten meat smell it sends out to attract its pollinators: carrion flies. The giant phallus growing out of the bloom helps to disburse the putrid perfume far and wide.

Inside the greenhouse we waded through an excited crowd--all eagerly awaited their turn to get up next to the sleeping titan and try to get a whiff of dead animal...

The plant was heavily monitored by cameras and smell sensors meant to track the plant's growth and maturation as well as measure its odor's intensity from pre to post bloom...

In its final stages the phallus can grow 2 inches daily and reach a height of 10 feet before blooming, but it looks like Cornell's Titan is kind of a little guy in comparison...

Here's a Cornell grad student making sure the smell monitors are staying in place.

She said that even in the greenhouse it is difficult to maintain the needed level of humidity here in Ithaca--notice how the leaf is dry and wilted along its edges. Looks a little like old lettuce...

Last night after we were back home from dinner and practicing, Rob pulled up the live video stream and we were stunned to see that over the space of an afternoon the Titan Anum had bloomed. To accommodate curious crowds the greenhouse's public hours were pushed back to 11:00 pm and they estimated 2000 people streamed through last night alone--I guess we humans go just as gaga over a rotten smell as a swarm of carrion flies!

Rob and I went back in to the greenhouse this morning. There was an impressive line, but people were pretty chill about everything and we moved up quickly.

Finally...the sight and smell we'd been waiting for! As soon as we entered the display room I caught a faint whiff of the Great Salt Lake--nothing too overwhelming--but wow! What a beauty!

I love the plant's deep red interior, and the giant sweeping fan of a leaf that surrounds its namesake inflorescence.

Even up close the smell wasn't nearly as intense as I'd imagined. According to the workers there it was a lot stronger last night when the bloom was new and it had not yet been pollinated.

Here's a view of the flower's innards...

And there are much better ones HERE...up close it reminds me of a sea anemone, or what I imagine some strange alien plant life could look like.

1 comment:

  1. WOW again!!! What a wonderful thing that you are there for this event!!!