Corpse flower’s stench soon to grace MSU

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

Here is a local post, but I think many of you not in the area will find it interesting as well.  Michigan State University currently has one of the world’s largest (and stinkiest) flowers getting ready to bloom – the corpse flower or titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).  That’s right – it smells kind of like rotting flesh.  This is not a common or yearly event – when the plants are raised in cultivation, sometimes they only bloom every few decades, so it is certainly a rare and exciting event.  In fact, it is such big news that it is getting wide news coverage!  When these plants bloom, botanical gardens will give press releases and have viewing hours for the public, which is what MSU is doing this weekend and next week.The titan arum is native to Indonesia, and is in the Araceae plant family.  Technically, what I was calling a flower is an inflorescence, or a group of flowers on a stem (branched or unbranched).  Although to the non-botanists’ eyes, it appears to be one flower with a huge, encircling petal, the real flowers are quite small and are at the base of the spadix, the tall yellow part that sticks up.  They are hidden from view until the inflorescence is fully open, and have both male and female flowers that release a carrion scent to attract carrion beetles and flesh flies to pollinate the flowers.  The petal-like structure is called a spathe.  A spadix and spathe is characteristic of inflorescences in the Araceae family, including the common calla lily. Other cool facts are that the  spathe is a deep red color to look like a piece of meat, and the spadix tip reaches human body temperature to help spread the scent and help attract insects looking for some warm meat.The titan arum holds the record for the tallest unbranched inflorescence in the world.

As of yesterday (Friday), the flower had not opened up yet at MSU, and the greenhouse manager told me that she expected it would be open on Monday or Tuesday.  See the following link for viewing hours, and click the link at the bottom of the article for the Beal Botanic Garden’s Facebook page to see a map of how to get to the Plant Science Teaching Conservatory greenhouse where the plant is located.  The flower will only stay open 24 to 48 hours after it opens, so it is a brief event.  I was surprised the plant was flowering again because I witnessed the flowering at MSU in 2010, which was just four years ago.  A webcam was set up then to let the public check it out from home, and the botanic garden staff is looking into if they can set up another webcam this week, but the plant is now in a different location without internet access, so it is a bit more difficult.

Southern Californians, it looks like you are in luck, too!  A corpseflower is set to flower at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa this weekend, so you can go check it out, too.

The following photos were taken by me at MSU in 2010.


This is what the titan arum looked like yesterday before it opens.


The inflorescence mostly open.


The small flowers below the spadix.

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.