Staff at the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid are watching closely and holding their noses in anticipation of the extremely rare opportunity to see an Amorphophallus titanum, or Giant Corpse Flower, bloom. Native only to Sumatra, Indonesia, it is not only rare in its native habitat, it is extremely rare in cultivation. Fewer than 85 Corpse Flowers have ever bloomed in the United States. This bloom, expected to emerge over the next two weeks, will be only the fourth in the state of Texas.
“We’ve affectionately named this plant ‘Morticia,’” said Donnita Brannon, horticulture exhibit manager at Moody Gardens; who added the plant’s extreme odor seems to intrigue curious crowds as much as its magnificent bloom. “For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. They may never have the chance to see it again.”
The common name, Corpse Flower, originates from the unpleasant odor the plant emits during flowering. The strong smell that is similar to rotting flesh attracts its pollinators, carrion beetles and sweat flies. It is considered the largest flowering plant in the world, often reaching heights of over 10 feet tall. Technically, it is the largest unbranched inflorescence, containing both male & female flowers.
One of the reasons for the plant’s rarity is its unreliable blooming schedule. There is no bloom season and flowers can be produced at any time of year. The Corpse Flower grows from an underground tuber which can weigh up to 200 pounds. From this tuber, a large single leaf emerges resembling a small tree that can grow to over 20 feet tall. During this vegetative state, the tuber gains its energy to produce the massive bloom. The plant then goes into a dormant period for approximately three months. The tuber will then either produce another leaf or a flower as it has at Moody Gardens. Once the tuber breaks dormancy and begins to send up a flower spike, the plant will usually bloom within four to six weeks. The flower grows very quickly at a rate of to four to six inches per day. The Moody Gardens Corpse Flower broke dormancy on May 1. There are several other Corpse Flowers in the Rainforest Pyramid. Brannon hopes to see some of these flowers bloom in the future.
The Corpse Flower was first discovered in 1878 by an Italian plant explorer Odoardo Beccari. Upon initial discovery, the plant struck fear into Beccari’s men due to the plant’s tremendous size and stench. It was believed to be a man-eating plant. Beccari took seeds back to the botanical gardens in Florence, Italy and later sent seedlings to The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, England. The first ever recorded bloom of the Corpse Flower took place at Kew in 1889. Police had to be called in to control the crowds of people who came to see it.
The first bloom ever recorded in the United States took place at New York Botanic Garden in 1937 where it created a similar response. The same plant bloomed again in 1939. In May 1998, the University of Missouri at St. Louis had a bloom and was the first in this country in nearly 60 years. Due to the plant’s peculiarity, popularity and incredible appeal to growers and collectors in the botanical community, the Corpse Flower began to gain attention in again the 1990s and early 2000s. Since May 1998, there have been 84 recorded blooms in the U.S. at arboretums, botanic gardens, zoos and universities. Each event has continued to attract plant lovers and curious visitors.
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