A Corpse Flower Grows in Brooklyn

Fans of stench, rejoice! The corpse flower at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is about to bloom!

“People will say, ‘Do you have a dead animal in here?’ ” said Patrick J. Cullina, vice president of horticulture and facilities at the botanic garden, who has worked with similar plants of different species. The literature posted beside the harmless-looking plant describes what to expect, the “revolting smell of putrefying meat.”

The corpse flower took another dramatic turn toward blooming on Thursday afternoon, as the large, green leafs began to fold back and fall away, revealing the maroon undersides that are colored to resemble an animal. As of 3:12 p.m., a very faint odor was detected in the room, said Leeann Lavin, a spokeswoman for the garden. “Right now, there are two flies on it,” she said.

You gotta love botanists. You can follow the corpse flower’s progress on the botanic garden’s website. They’ve got a webcam and a blog following the plant’s progress.

The last time a corpse flower bloomed in New York, it was 1939, and the stench was memorable:

In 1937 and again in 1939, thousands turned out to watch bloomings in the Bronx. According to The New York Times, the odor “almost downed” newspaper reporters, and was described by an assistant curator at the botanical garden there as “a cross between ammonia fumes and hydrogen sulphide, suggestive of spoiled meat or rotting fish.” It became the official flower of the Bronx, until 2000, and it seems the bizarre specimen — why the heck does a flower smell like bad meat? — can still draw a crowd. More than 10,000 people visited a blooming corpse flower at the University of Connecticut in Storrs in 2004.

The plant will have round-the-clock babysitters to watch for signs of blooming in the dead of night. The security staff is being issued air masks.

Oh, and they don’t call it Amorphophallus titanum for nothin’.

How *you* doin’?

22 comments for “A Corpse Flower Grows in Brooklyn

  1. August 11, 2006 at 9:53 am

    AWESOME! I am definitely gonna check it out!

  2. August 11, 2006 at 10:01 am

    Oh, that’s a cool flower. I saw one in bloom a couple of years ago, up at UC Davis. I was smart, OK, lucky enough to get there just after the thing (named Tabitha by its devoted coterie) had been hand-pollinated, with pollen that an arumaniac had stored in his fridge from another blooming arum and rushed in from the coast to donate. After it’s pollinated, the flower stops stinking. I had to climb a ladder and put my nose against it to perceive even a faint scent.

    To answer the reporter’s question: It’s pollinated by flies, of course. So is the Stapelia on my windowsill. (Scroll down to “Posy Poses.”)

  3. KnifeGhost
    August 11, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    DAMN. I wanna see that. Why can’t there be one in Victoria?

  4. C-Bird
    August 11, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Oh man, this reminds me of the Simpson’s episode where it blooms and destryed they whole park. It was the episode where Moe got obsessive about Maggie. That was a good episode. They had an italian-american mexican standoff, hehehe.

    Sorry about the non-relevence of my comment, heh.

  5. August 11, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    Man, Knifeghost, if you’re in the Victoria I think you are, you have Butchart Gardens. I mean, that’s sort of for-the-win, y’know?

  6. August 11, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Moe got obsessed with Maggie?

  7. Kat
    August 11, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Wasn’t this an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy?

  8. C-Bird
    August 11, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Yeah, Robyn, he’d beg to babysit her and put his own baby monitor in her room because she was the only person who ever liked him. Wow, it sounds really sad and creepy to type out, but it was really funny. For bedtime stories, he told her the plot of the Godfather, heh.

  9. Neely OHara
    August 11, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Wow, zuzu, thanks for posting this – I’ve never gotten around to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but I would love to see this. Hopefully it’ll still smell wretched tomorrow.

  10. August 11, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    Titan Arums are fascinating plants – horrible to smell, enormous, and warm-blooded to boot.


  11. Kat
    August 11, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    Nope, it was a Jimmy Neutron episode abouth is science project, a prehistoric plant.

  12. August 11, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Wow. Fascinating.

    Speaking of weird plants, what is that that plant or tree that, when it flowers, smells like semen? There is ample vegetation around the back entrance to the Fuqua Business School in Durham. I worked there for three and a half years, and each fall was greeted with the same smell. A smell I can only describe as “spunk.”

    Has anyone had a similar experience?

    Am I just a sick pervert?

  13. Linnaeus
    August 11, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    No, Natalia, you’re not a sick pervert. At least not based on your experience with plant smells.

    A number of plants give off a similar scent, so we’d have to have a description of the plant. Judging from what you’ve said about being in Durham, my guess is that it could be a variety of privet: either the glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum), or Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), both of which are found in Durham County, NC, especially Chinese privet. They’re not native by the way, but rather come from Asia.

  14. August 11, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    Ohhh, you know, I think you’re right. I remember having this discussion in high school.

    Yay for not being a pervert. At least in this sense. ;)

  15. KnifeGhost
    August 11, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    little light, I am indeed in the Victoria you think I’m in, and we do indeed have Butchart Gardens. To my shame, I’ve only been once, and it was in the winter.

    But the real point is —- there’s no rafflesia at Butchart.

  16. August 11, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    Knife Ghost, I doubt that anyone’s managed to grow a rafflesia outside its native jungle; it’s a root parasite. But titan arums are being propagated and distributed all over the place lately. Does the Butchart have a greenhouse? If so, there might be a titan arum there by now, and all that remains it waiting till it blooms.

    And yes, they do make heat — I htink many arums/aroids do that. Skunk cabbage melts a hole in the snow if it has to. Come to think of it, it stinks too. Not at all in the same league, but I guess it’s a familial tendency.

  17. piny
    August 12, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    My favorite part is how the scientists name the plants.

  18. August 12, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    Natalia, oh my God, I don’t know the name of the semen tree, but I know what you’re talking about. I live in Arizona, and the route that I used to jog was heavily populated with the semen-smelling tree. I would try to point it out to my friends, but they either didn’t get or pretended not to get the similarity.

  19. Ledasmom
    August 13, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    I think it’s hysterical that the semen tree grows near the Fuqua Business School.
    I suspect it would be something in the privet family; many of them have a slightly off smell, including the tree lilac. Look for loosely-organized white flowers.
    KnifeGhost, did you ever try the tea at Butchart Gardens? The one time my mother and I went, we did, and it’s quite good – better than the one at the hotel in Victoria that’s supposed to be famous for it.

  20. Anne
    August 13, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    I read a similar discussion on trees that smell like semen recently, and a lot of the commenters felt that the tree in question was a ginkgo. However, others said it was a Bradford pear, but I don’t agree.

  21. Nymphalidae
    August 14, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Biologists have the best jobs. I can’t even explain how much I love being a biologist and getting to play with all the gross bugs.

  22. August 14, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    “I suspect it would be something in the privet family; many of them have a slightly off smell, including the tree lilac. Look for loosely-organized white flowers.”

    There are lots of tree lilacs near where I live which, in swaths, smell strongly of spurt in the summer. In fact, the first thing I thought when I first encountered the substance in question was “hey, that smells a lot like lilac trees.”

    I think some people smell it and some don’t, because it seems for everyone I’ve talked to who notices the similarity there are a dozen who don’t notice it (or pretend not to). Probably one of those genetic variations like tasting a bitter chemical in cabbages.

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