Corpse Flower’s rare bloom draws visitors to Como Observatory

The flower has only bloomed a documented 122 times, and is known for its foul, pungent odor.

Betsy Graca

Early Wednesday morning, a potent, rotting flesh-like fragrance lingered through Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, bringing delight to staff and visitors alike.

The culprit was not the adjacent Como Zoo, but rather a flower blossom 15 years in the making.

The Amorphophallus titanum, also known as the Corpse Flower, has only bloomed a documented 122 times, and is known for its less-than-appealing smell, meant to attract beetles and flies for pollination.

During its 48-hour blooming period, thousands of curious visitors came to see the flower up close or watch its progression on the conservatory’s garden blog live Web cam.

“There’s definitely an interest and a fascination with the flower,” conservatory spokeswoman Michelle Furrer said.

Some visitors had smelling an Amorphophallus on their life checklist, and can now mark off that accomplishment, said Margaret Yeakel-Twum, gardener for the horticulture collections and displays at the conservatory.

“The smell has been described as: old diapers left in the garbage for days, a dead deer left in the sun for three days, old gym socks and just gross,” Yeakel-Twum, a professional masters environmental education student at the University, wrote in the garden blog Wednesday.

The flower, a native of Indonesian island Sumatra, could bloom again in another two to six years, depending on how much energy the corm, or base – which is about the size of a basketball and weighs approximately 25 lbs. – conserves.

Yeakel-Twum nicknamed the corpse flower BOB, after Brian O’Brien, who donated the flower from Gustavus Adolphus College.

BOB, an abnormally small corpse flower, is the second to bloom in Minnesota – the first being “Perry,” which had a corm of 90 lbs., at Gustavus Adolphus last year.

Yeakel-Twum said it’s infrequent for the corm to bloom, and it often goes into a leaf stage instead.

“You’re watching history right now,” she said, adding that the Web cam had been locking up because of an excess of viewers.

“(The Web cam) not only allows people to see this magnificent organism,” O’Brien, an associate chemistry professor said, “But it also raises an awareness of biodiversity.”

While the flower faces destruction of its natural habitat, O’Brien said it’s become more common among colleges and botanical gardens.

The first Amorphophallus was documented by an Italian botanist in the late 1870s.

Yeakel-Twum said she was hesitant to pollinate the corpse flower. Because of its smaller size, the flower could be killed by pollination, she said. She plans to send the pollen to Gustavus for the use of other institutions hoping to bloom a corpse flower of their own.

Though what has been called “the tiny titan” didn’t open fully, revealing a purple “skirt” as it should have, it still makes the list of documented Amorphophalluses that have bloomed.

“I’m hoping that in our future, we’ll have (corpse) flowers that open all the way,” Yeakel-Twum said. “But it was fun, and I’m glad we had one.”

By Thursday afternoon, the flower’s smell was barely existent, and over the weekend it drooped and withered, once again dormant.

Today, Yeakel-Twum said she will take the flower’s enormous pot out of the public viewing area, as if nothing ever happened.

“It was one of those brief flickers of light,” Yeakel-Twum said. “Now we move on.”