Carolus, Cornell’s titan arum, growing about 3″ a day

Cornell University botanists still aren’t sure what effect being transplanted outside will have on one of its titan arum, or corpse flower, plants. But Carolus has grown 20 inches in the last week.

Carolus has been growing outdoors since June. Photo courtesy of Cornell.

The towering plant, of a species that famously stinks when it flowers, is up to 56 inches tall as of Monday. The last time Carolus bloomed in 2015 in the Kenneth Post Laboratory Greenhouses, Cornell says, it peaked at 76 inches tall.

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.

Botanists say being outside the controlled environment of a greenhouse makes it harder to be sure when the plant will “unfurl its spathe and begin emitting its pungent odor designed to draw in flies, beetles and other pollinators attracted by the prospect of finding a rotting animal carcass.”

“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.

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.

Cornell estimates the plant will bloom in early to mid August. If it does, “a few days before peak, growth will begin to slow and the spathe will begin to show some reddish tinges,” they say.

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.

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