St. Peter's corpse flower bloomed Halloween night

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 2, 2013 - 3:17 PM

The massive, stinky plant that attracts thousands flowered just in time for fright night.

 

It looks like the giant carniverous plant from the musical “Little Shop of Horrors.” But it smells like a dead skunk.

Visitors got a chance to take a whiff of the seven-foot tall topical plant in all its stinky glory Thursday night at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. The plant nicknamed “Perry” was in full bloom, filling the greenhouse with its gaggy stench. Visiting hours continue noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 1, although the flower is past its peak and has started to close.

It’s only the third time in six years Perry has produced a flower. The last time was in July 2010 when its impressive otherworldy beauty attracted 5,000 visitors, some describing the odor as a “full diaper” “boy’s hockey locker room” and “decaying meat.”

The plant grows naturally in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia and was named corpse flower because of the repulsive scent it emits after it blooms to attract pollinators.

Gustavus Chemistry professor Brian O’Brien received Perry as a seed in 1993 from a San Francisco doctor. After years of meticulous cultivation, Perry produced a maroon and dark purple flower in 2007.

“I’ve been interested in this plant since I was a little kid and saw it in my grandmother’s gardening encyclopedia,” said O’Brien. “So it’s really cool to have one growing down the hall from my office.”

The Sumatran plant’s Latin name is Amorphophallus titanum (“misshapen giant penis”) and unfurled flowers are a rare occurrence, with only about 122 plants known to bloom worldwide. In 2008, a corpse plant attracted gawkers to the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul. (O’Brien had donated a plant to the Conservatory three years earlier.)

O’Brien will be at the Gustavus greenhouse part of the time during visiting hours to answer questions, often posed by kids who are especially fascinated by Perry’s size, shape and smell, he said. “To them, it looks like something out of a science fiction movie.”

There’s even a book, called “What did Perry Smell Like?,” for visitors to record their stench comparisons.

O’Brien’s take: “A combination of rotting meat and skunk.”

This time, people who saw the flower were rewarded with a significantly bigger maroon and dark purple bloom than in 2010, said O’Brien.

Visiting hours

The corpse flower is in the third floor greenhouse of Gustavus Adolphus College’s Alfred Nobel Hall of Science. Signs will be posted near the College’s various entrances to direct visitors.

Hours are 2 to 9 p.m. Oct. 31 and noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 1.

Can’t get to St. Peter? Visit the live web cam at https://gustavus.edu/biology/titanarum.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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