By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
OXFORD, Ohio — A plant at Miami University caused a big stink recently, when more than 3,000 people came to see the “Corpse Flower,” a Titan Arum, in bloom.
It is considered to be the largest inflorescence (cluster of flowers) on Earth, said Jack Keegan, greenhouse manager and instructor. The Corpse Flower name comes from the rotten scent it emits to attract pollinators. “You could smell it from a block away,” he said.
The 12-year-old plant, which was on display at the university’s Ethel Belk Greenhouse, was started from seed and it reached nearly five feet tall and three feet wide in full bloom. This was its first flower. The bloom lasted about two days and the aroma was the strongest on the first evening of bloom.
“The first evening was the most important because that was when it was ‘calling’ the pollinators (carrion beetles and flies), so that’s when it really stinks,” Keegan explained. “It not only stinks, but it also, like skunk cabbage, which is a relative, raised its temperature to almost 100 degrees; it actually warms up the air so it smells even more.”
The bloom was anticipated for almost a week before it actually opened. During that time the university kept a webcam on it, which was streamed online. The website had 100,000 views.
The Titan Arum is native to the rainforests in Sumatra, Indonesia, Keegan said. It is on the threatened list of plants. It can reach heights of 20 feet. Fewer than 200 worldwide have ever bloomed in cultivation; this is the fourth in Ohio.
After the plant starts from seed, it puts up a single leaf that lasts for 9-10 months. It then dies back for about four months before sending up another leaf, usually larger than the first one, Keegan said. Eventually it will make a single leaf that can be 20 feet high and 16 feet across. The largest flower ever recorded was over 10 feet tall.
The seed of the university plant came from Miami alumni, Joan Leonard, who currently runs the biological greenhouse at Ohio State University. She grew the plant for a number of years before donating it to the Belk Greenhouse.
The Belk Greenhouse, at Miami University’s Boyd Hall on Western Avenue, is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The greenhouse has other Titan Arum plants in leaf.