Cornell University has rare titan arum, or corpse flower, plants, and one of them is likely to bloom within a few weeks. When a titan arum blooms, it “emits a powerful scent that smells like rotting meat to attract carrion flies and other insects that spread pollen to other Titan Arums,” according to Cornell.
“Carolus,” one of Cornell’s two titan arums of flowering size, last bloomed in 2015, and just over a month ago, it was planted outside.
“As far as we are aware, this is the first time anyone has tried this outside in a temperate region,” says Kevin Nixon, professor in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science and the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory’s curator.
Carolus was named after Carolus Linnæus, the 18th Century Swedish botanist who laid the foundations of the modern biological naming system known as binomial nomenclature, says Ed Cobb, research support specialist in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “It’s also in honor of Carol Bader, the greenhouse grower who nurtured these plants for nearly ten years, but passed away before they bloomed.”
The other plant, Wee Stinky, is named for the spot on the Cornell campus known as the Wee Stinky Glen, near the Cornell Store, that used to have a distinct odor. Wee Stinky has bloomed in 2012, 2014, and 2016.
“These plants are offering more than a gothic horror story,” Professor Rob Raguso says. “They are showing us what it takes to trap insects and potentially control pests. The plants are already doing it, and doing it extraordinarily well.” A better understanding of the chemicals involved in the flowering process could also have potential benefit for humans, Cornell says. Raguso thinks reverse engineering the plant’s chemical weaponry could help humans in our ongoing battle against pests.
According to Cornell, Paul Cooper, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station greenhouse grower who maintains the Conservatory’s collection, planted Carolus’s massive 100-pound corm – an underground structure similar to a flower bulb – on June 14 in a pot in Minns Garden.
There’s some risk that severe weather or the plant just not liking the outdoor conditions will affect the process. “Whatever happens, we’ll learn something new this year,” says Karl Niklas, Liberty Hyde Bailey professor in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science.
As of July 25, Carolus stood 38.5 inches and was growing about three inches per day, according to the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory. “When it last bloomed in 2015, Carolus topped out at 76 inches tall. But predicting exactly when the inflorescence will peak this time around will be especially difficult, as the cooler temperatures outside could slow its progress.”
Cornell estimates the plant will bloom in early to mid August. The Minns Garden is between the Plant Science Building and Tower Road. Cornell says the nearest public parking is at the Peterson Lot across from the Cornell Dairy Bar.