Planet Earth

Giant Corpse Flower Blooms in Cornell's Greenhouse

80beatsBy Veronique GreenwoodMar 21, 2012 3:38 PM

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On Sunday, Cornell University's corpse flower, a gigantic Sumatran plant that reeks of death, bloomed. It was one of only 140 such plants to bloom in cultivation in recorded history. The plant's long central stalk, called a spadix, had been growing by a few inches a day since the beginning of March in preparation for the bloom, finally reaching more than 60 inches in height when the fleshy, dark red leaf around its base eventually unfurled on the 18th.

The corpse flower before blooming.

The corpse flower after blooming, with admirers.

To reduce the stench when the flower finally opened, graduate students hooked little pumps up to the plant, which sucked out the scent compounds as they were forming. In the wild, its rotting-meat small attracts flies that pollinate it, but in the greenhouse, fertilization is taken care of by scientists, who must tap the female blooms at the base of the spadix with pollen saved from another blooming corpse flower.

This corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum

, shares that evocative moniker with the Rafflesia genus

of plants, which also have giant blooms, and also smell like corpses, but are not closely related. Images courtesy of Robert Barker / Cornell, Joe Schwartz / Cornell, Chris Kitchen Photography

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