When someone talks about a corpse flower, or Amorphophallus titanumThere’s a good chance they’ll mention one or all of these traits: it’s phallic, it smells cruel, and it may only bloom about once in a decade.
Earlier this week, Barnard College’s Corpse Flower unfolded for the first time, and you can follow its slow progress in real time on the YouTube livestream below. This particular specimen was given to Barnards Arthur Ross Greenhouse by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Horticulture Department in 2013 and is named after the Indonesian word for “Berani” brave– an allusion to the native region of the species in Sumatra, Indonesia.
In recent years, greenhouse workers have watched the potato-like tuber sprout into a tall, green structure – each taller than the other, with the youngest measuring around 12 feet – in the hope that they will be able to observe it next time instead to bloom into a flower. When Berani started shooting again this spring, they noticed that it looked different, and when it was almost a meter high, they were able to confirm that the swollen spatula would soon pull a beautiful, putrid flower out of its sheath.
Since the coronavirus pandemic prevented them from inviting the public to see Berani bloom in person, greenhouse administrator Nick Gershberg and his colleagues have documented the process on the greenhouse’s Instagram account (as well as on the livestream) and plan to post a time -lapse video soon.
Gershberg tells Mental Floss that the flower peaked on Sunday evening, May 31. At that time it was 72 inches tall and 44 inches wide. And true to its reputation, the corpse flower filled the room with a strong stench that initially smelled of a dead rat. As the flower heated to a temperature about 12 degrees warmer than the room – a breathing process known as thermogenesis – Gershberg discovered other recognizable smells, including dead fish, Camembert cheese left out overnight, and the smell of light decayed lilies. After the temperature of the flower dropped again, it smelled much more pleasant: a freshly gutted pumpkin.
The corpse flower gets its name because its smell is often compared to that of a corpse, but Gershberg’s experience suggests that the association could be more in our minds than anything else.
“It was only when I started the mental expedition [the smell] in a jungle and thought “oh my god this is a corpse” that it was actually bad. It was very bad at that point, ”he explains. “But once I stopped thinking about,” Oh, that’s a corpse or maybe even a dead person, “it didn’t have that effect anymore. So it was interesting to see how much of it was really psychological, given the extreme smell as far as I thought it was a good or bad smell. “
Since a corpse flower only blooms for about 48 hours, Berani soon begins to wither and eventually falls over and detaches from its base. After the roots die, all that remains is what Gershberg describes as “a 40-pound potato the size of a beach ball”. The team will take it out of the pot, clean it, check for infections, replant it, and wait for the now dormant tuber to send out a new leaf, which will likely happen in the next three to six months.
According to Gershberg, the experience of seeing the corpse flower blooming in all its majestic splendor fundamentally changes how you see its usual bulbs and leaves.
“It’s like you see someone doing karaoke and you say,” My God, that person can really sing, “and you never see them that way again,” he says. “They say,” There’s actually a superstar over there in accounting. “
To help them remember how tall a superstar Berani really is – and to give the public a chance to see it for themselves in the future – the Barnard team hopes to receive part of it as a flower press. While waiting to see what it looks like, you can learn more about corpse flowers here.