This weekend may be your best chance to see, in person, the rare bloom of an unusual plant that’s native to western Sumatra.
One of UNC Charlotte’s Titan Arums, also known as the corpse flower, is estimated to bloom any day now. Housed in the greenhouse of UNC Charlotte’s Botanical Gardens, the monstrous plant looks like something straight out of a classic sci-fi B movie.
Titan Arums’ flowers have been known to grow rapidly, over a few days and up to 12 feet tall in their native land. Their blood-red petals look like capes wrapped around thick green spikes. Their nickname, the corpse flower, comes from the pungent odor they emit during the short, 12- to 24-hour period they bloom.
“It smells like a dead animal,” said Paula Gross, interim director for the university’s botanical gardens. “It’s very strong and will permeate your hair.”
The stench typically travels up to a half-mile radius, the plant’s tricky tactic to attract pollinators like carrion beetles and other insects interested in feeding on decaying animals.
“These poor beetles, they’re hit in the face like, oh my gosh, there’s a dead elephant or something around here, and they’re flocking to the plant just to be fooled,” said Gross. “It’s one of the crazy stories of nature, which nature has many.”
By coincidence, Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens had a Titan Arum in bloom last week. Gross said university botanists plan to cross-pollinate the pair, using a coat hanger and cotton ball to collect pollen.
It’s not the first time UNC Charlotte has had luck with a Titan Arum. Botanists there were the first to bloom one in the Carolinas back in 2007. Nicknamed Bella, it bloomed again in 2010, then expired.
“They won’t live forever,” said Gross. “They’ll often die after a second or third bloom, so we had already acquired two younger ones that we call the twins.”
While one of the twins is still dormant, the other has prepared to bloom, growing 5 inches in one day last week.
University botanists named it Odoardo, after Odoardo Beccari, the scientist who discovered the plant in 1878. It pays homage to the Italian researcher, said Gross, but is not without a chuckle factor.
“We thought it was funny that Odoardo sounds like odor,” said Gross.
The window for Odoardo’s bloom is brief, around a day, and during that time flies will try to get into the greenhouse in search of rotting flesh. While they’ll do their best to keep them away, botanists welcome visits from others attracted to the rare occasion.
Around 4,000 people came to see Bella during her last bloom, and Gross anticipates that the public will once again stop in to have a peak.
“It’s like a famous rock star comes to town or something,” said Gross. “They just want to see it to believe it because it’s a freaky thing and it’s real and it’s short-lived and it’s rare. Put all of those things together and it’s worth coming out for.”
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, 9201 University City Blvd., Charlotte, are open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Free and open to the public. For information, go to www.gardens.uncc.edu or www.facebook.com/UNCCharlotteGardens?fref=nf.