Corpse flower blooms after 2 years

Analicia Haynes, Managing Editor

Titan Arum a.k.a the corpse flower lived up to its name and smelled like a very unlucky possum that was not playing dead on the side of the road, but rather rotting in the heat for about a day or two.  

Of course, since the corpse flower bloomed a day earlier, its memorable stench only lingered within the small vicinity of the plant Tuesday afternoon, rather than engulfing the H.F. Thut Greenhouse in its smelly glory.  

But, Greenhouse Manager Steven Malehorn, wearing an aged tan biology department t-shirt painted with a picture of the blooming corpse flower and slightly wet with sweat, was ready to help share the experience of smelling it.  

“Just scratch and sniff,” he said, handing over a rectangular piece of the plant he carved out so he can collect pollen and send it to Chicago.  

Standing in front of a fan in the corner, and being trapped in the steamy heat of the greenhouse room, also guaranteed the opportunity to get a whiff of the distinct smell that embedded itself into the nostrils, leaving residue that lingered long after leaving the greenhouse.  

Yet, despite the smell, the plant is special and brought several spectators to observe it after it fully bloomed.

An endangered plant on the verge of extinction and native to the Jambi Province in Sumatra, Indonesia the corpse flower needs to be surrounded by tropical like heat, like how it felt in the greenhouse, Malehorn said.  

At Eastern though, it all started with a seed.  

“Mine is the last survivor from those that came from 2001,” Malehorn said, animated by the way he used hand gestures to describe what he was saying and referring to the seeds or fruit that the University of Wisconsin was trying to find homes for.  

Eastern’s flower was the first to bloom in Illinois in 2008 and has continued to bloom every two years since then.  

Laura Hackler, from Charleston, listened to Malehorn as he answered her questions regarding the different parts of the plant, where it was from and how it is able to bloom.  

Aside from calling the flower impressing, Hackler said the most interesting part about the whole experience was the fact that Malehorn kept the flower alive for 17 years.  

Malehorn jokingly said he is not sure how the flower is still alive and getting it to bloom every two years is tricky.  

He said the trick is to annoy it because if it is “happy growing, it won’t bloom.”  

“There’s a difference between neglecting it and annoying it,” Malehorn said. “You can annoy your children but you can’t neglect them.”  

The flower only blooms for about a day and a half, Malehorn said.  

When it is fully open, the strong, unattractive odor serves a purpose because Malehorn said the smell attracts flies that help pollinate the flower 

Malehorn said after a few days the spadix, or the long part of the plant that extends upward, collapses and the spathe, which looks like a poodle skirt turned upside down with a reddish, purple interior, falls off. The plant’s poisonous fruit matures if pollination was successful. 

Meredith Hackler, Laura Hackler’s daughter, said the flower and experience she had learning about it was awesome.  

She said it was great that something like this was at Eastern.  

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]