Berkeley ‘Corpse Flower’ Blooming Soon in All Its Disgusting Glory

The male and female flowers rest at the base of the shaft-like spadix. They are separate, and mature on different days. (Johanna Varner/KQED Science)

Update: 9:55 p.m., July 26, 2015

After days of coyly tempting staff and visitors with the occasional pungent whiff of rotting flesh, Trudy the corpse flower finally blossomed on Saturday night at the UC Botanical Garden.

Visitors react to Trudy with delight and disgust on Sunday afternoon.
Visitors react to Trudy with delight and disgust on Sunday afternoon. (Johanna Varner/KQED Science)

A record crowd of over 2,250 guests turned out to see and smell the 56-inch bloom today, almost ten times the typical number for a busy weekend day. Many visitors waited in line for over an hour.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” says Paul Licht, the garden’s director, gesturing towards the queue of people eager to feel queasy at the flower’s stench.

Docents explain the titan arum's life cycle as they waft the foul stench over eager visitors.
Docents explain the titan arum’s life cycle as they waft the foul stench over eager visitors. (Johanna Varner/KQED Science)

Trudy will remain on display for several days, but the odor has already started to fade. And in a few days, the whole flower will collapse so that it may restart its life cycle.

Update: 1:10 p.m., July 24, 2015

Good news for Bay Area working stiffs: you haven’t missed the chance to make yourself nauseous at the UC Botanical Garden. Despite high hopes for a putrid performance today, Trudy the corpse flower has not yet bloomed.

Paul Licht, director of the garden, had expected the plant to bloom overnight. But this morning, he says there are signs that the plant is getting ready to bloom.

Specifically the skirt-like structure  that wraps around the base of the flower, called the spathe, is starting to loosen. When the plant blooms, the spathe will fully open, exposing hundreds of tiny flowers and the wicked stench that so many visitors are dying to smell.

Paul Licht, the botanical garden director, explains the Titan Arum's life cycle to visitors anxious to smell the nauseating flower.
Paul Licht, the botanical garden director, explains the Titan Arum’s life cycle to visitors anxious to smell the nauseating flower. (Johanna Varner/KQED Science)

“It’s impossible to predict for sure,” he says. “But it looks different this morning in an important way. It could be tonight.”

Visitors can check Trudy’s progress on the botanical garden website before planning a trip.

Trudy the corpse flower is showing signs that a bloom (and its distinctive odor of rotten flesh) is imminent. The botanical garden is collaborating with private photographers to capture time-lapse images of the event.
Trudy the corpse flower is showing signs that a bloom (and its distinctive odor of rotten flesh) is imminent. The garden is collaborating with private photographers to capture the first-ever time-lapse video of a titan arum bloom in IMAX. (Johanna Varner/KQED Science)

Original Post, 1:05 p.m., July 21, 2015:

The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden has a stinky spectacle on display this week: a plant that looks a bit like a five-foot tall banana and smells like a dead mouse.

“It’s clearly, to me, the odor of a dead mammal, as opposed to a fish,” says Paul Licht, the director of the botanical garden. “Or maybe a dead rat. A big dead rat. Or a dead cow.”

It’s actually a blooming titan arum plant, also known as the “corpse flower” or by its colorful scientific name Amorphophallus titanum, which means “giant misshapen penis.”

And to see one in full bloom is a rare sight, since titan arums typically only flower once every few years.

“It’s a pretty fantastic thing to witness, even if you’ve seen it before,” says Licht. “I’m still completely drawn to it. It’s something you want to see over and over again.”

But what’s with the stench? Like most flowers, the titan arum is using odor to call in its pollinators. But instead of luring bees or bats with the sweet smells of pollen and nectar, the “corpse flower” produces an odor like rotten flesh to attract carrion flies and beetles.

It also heats its flower to over 100-degrees, which helps the foul smell permeate its native Sumatran rainforests.

At UC Berkeley, the botanical garden staff has nicknamed this plant “Trudy.” This is the fourth time it has bloomed in the 20 years since it was planted.

A photo of Trudy's last bloom, in 2009.
A photo of Trudy’s last bloom, in 2009. (James Gaither/flickr)

And its flowering stalk is growing quickly. As of Tuesday morning, Trudy stands at 53 inches tall, having grown two inches overnight.

Licht says it’s impossible to predict when the flower will open in all its gory glory, but his best guess is that it will happen toward the end of this week.

Its famous “corpse” odor will only be produced for the last 24 hours of the bloom. Then the flower will collapse to restart the plant’s life cycle.

To accommodate visitors, the botanical garden will have special visiting hours this week, until the plant flowers.

“It’s a fascinating flower, and it stinks,” says Licht. “But in a way that somehow appeals to people. People go to horror movies to be scared, right? Well, they go to see this flower to be made nauseous.”

Berkeley ‘Corpse Flower’ Blooming Soon in All Its Disgusting Glory 16 December,2015Johanna Varner

  • Alano

    The scientific name is actually Amorphophallus ‘Titanum’

  • Alano – thank you. Fixed. Damn autocorrect. A titanium corpse flower would be a sight to behold, however.

  • kristip harris

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Johanna Varner

Johanna Varner is excited to join KQED Science as a 2015 AAAS Mass Media Fellow. She recently finished her PhD in Biology from University of Utah, where she studied how small mammals are responding to climate change. She also has past lives as an engineer, a blueberry farmer, and a baker. Outside of the lab, Johanna has been active in designing authentic field research experiences for K-12 students and giving interactive public presentations about local mammals. You can find her on twitter at @johannavarner

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