For the first time in seven years, the 6-foot-tall corpse flower bloomed late Sunday at its home in the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences Conservatory in St. Paul, a “ta-da!” that was a few days behind schedule.
Now the conservatory is dealing with an apparently shy performer. It seems the flower’s bloom is a bit lacking of all its glory.
Monday morning, two conservatory staff members stood next to the flower atop a grate 3 feet above the floor and were coaxing a more robust bloom with pollen borrowed from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., which has a corpse flower of its own. And how is that done? Very carefully, of course.
The staffers were dipping paintbrushes into the pollen and then reaching shoulder-deep into the flower to leave the enticing matter inside. For better or worse, the funky blooming is a rare and fleeting event, even as it makes a very vivid impression. At this point, the flower’s famously bad odor is more like that of spoiled cabbage.
The corpse flower, a native of the equatorial rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia, is a member of the plant family Araceae, making it a cousin to the more familiar, and less noxious, jack-in-the-pulpit. A strong family resemblance can be seen, in a B science fiction movie (“The Thing That Stunk Up St. Paul”) sort of way.
The notoriously noxious corpse flower uses its odor to cut through the many scents competing for the pollinating attention of the sweat bee. The bees can smell the plant from miles away. It's known more academically as the Amorphophallus titanum — which translates to “misshapen giant penis.”
Gustavus Adolphus’ corpse flower last raised its stink in late 2013. A corpse flower also bloomed in 2008 at Como Park’s Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul.
Sophie Hoover, a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune, contributed to this report.