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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wee Stinky

Cornell's corpse plant is blooming now. We're easily amused here in Ithaca, so this is a big deal. People waited in line for an hour or more to see it.
The corpse plant's Latin name is Amorphophallus Titanum, which means giant misshapen phallus. Really. Its common name is Titum Arun, which was introduced because some people thought the Latin name was too vulgar. It's related to skunk cabbage and Jack in the Pulpit. They are pretty rare in the wild, bloom once every few years or so, and only 150 or so blooms have been observed in captivity. Cornell got theirs from a seed harvested about ten years ago, when the University of Wisconsin's plant bloomed. The flower is only open for two days, during which time it emits a smell of rotting meat to attract carrion flies and beetles to pollinate it. Since they're pretty rare and need another blooming plant to pollinate it, the smell has to waft for quite a distance to attract bugs. To further enhance the odor, the inflorescence generates heat to waft the smell further. The flowers can be up to 10 feet tall. Cornell's is 66.5', the same height as me. It has grown about 30 inches in the last two weeks. Amorphophallus Titanum, indeed.
As usual, I was a bit late to the party. It bloomed yesterday. Today it was already getting rather sad and flaccid. By tomorrow it will be done. Rumor has it that it was a lot less smelly than yesterday. I waited in line for about an hour. Ever so often I'd catch a whiff of something smelly but I wasn't sure if it was the plant or the people in line. Anyway, when I got the the head of the line I could definitely smell it. It smelled like roadkill on a warm summer day. Sometimes it was just strong but bearable and sometimes I'd catch a really strong whiff and was sort of glad that I didn't visit when the smell was stronger. They were sampling the air around the flower so they asked people not to show up wearing strong perfumes. I was amused by that.
They ran a poll to name it. The winning name is "Wee Stinky," after a creek that used to flow through campus. It's rather appropriate.
Here's a picture of Wee Stinky. If you want to see one at its peak, there are a lot better pictures on the wikipedia entry.

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