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UW-River Falls grows rare flower

October 28, 2011

In September 2010 UW-River Falls received attention for a rare blooming flower. The corpse flower, also known as a Titan Arum or Amorphophallus Titanum, which had been grown from a seed planted in the greenhouse by Daniel Waletzko bloomed. This species of flower has only bloomed a few more then a hundred times in controlled conditions. When blooming, the corpse flower released a pungent smell likened to rotting flesh or a dead rat. Plants like this have been known to grow to over 200 pounds. They are comprised of a tuber, much like a giant tulip bulb, that will sprout a stalk and then a leaf. That leaf will normally live between 12 and 18 months and then die and become the simple tuber for about six months.

The UWRF greenhouse’s corpse flower has recently grown its first new stalk since the flowering, and should grow another leaf soon. However it could be as long as eight years or more before the plant will produce another flower. The pollen from the flower was stored in a freezer in case another corpse flower should bloom, but it can not be used to pollinate itself.

The corpse flower is still an interesting site to behold even without the flower. The large wood-like green stem rises out of the big, square black pot the beach ball sized bulb is kept in. It does not have the same fragrance that it had when it was flowering. It barely has any scent at all. The pot that it is planted in has strong castors on the bottom of the base in order to move the flower safely even with its heavy weight.

When a corpse flower blooms it sends up a single inflorescence with only both male and female flowers. The inflorescence will develop for three to four weeks and can grow to be 10 feet tall and three or four feet wide. The fleshy column in the middle, called a spadix, has thousands of tiny flowers in its base. The large inflorescence usually opens in just a few hours and will only remain open for a day.

The reason for the smell is to attract pollinators. Flies and other insects, such as carrion beetles, are attracted by the smell and fooled into believing there is a dead animal rotting somewhere inside the flower. When the UWRF flower was blooming there were several flies swarming inside the greenhouse being tricked by the smell.

The corpse flower was discovered in 1878 by the Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari. The first recorded incidence of it flowering outside its native habitat of the tropical forests of Sumatra was in 1889 In the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. The first case of a corpse flower blooming in the United States of America was in 1935, where it was grown in the New York Botanical Gardens.

The corpse flower will live on for many more years, and with luck it will be able to be pollinated the next time it blooms.