Carolus, Cornell’s titan arum, starting to open tonight

After over a week of “robust” growth, Cornell botanists say one of its titan arum, or “corpse flower,” plants is preparing to open tonight. A little before 4pm, the plant “started showing signs that tonight might be the night.”

Cornell’s Trey Ramsey measures Carolus on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Cornell.

Cornell says the plant’s growth had been 3 to 4 inches daily, and has now slowed to two inches or less per day. That, and changes in coloration, suggest it’s preparing to open. On Sunday morning, the plant measured 73.5 inches.

Staff say they’re “watching to see whether or not it will bloom with the same vigor” as with past blooms, which were all indoors. “Time will tell whether or not the spathe will unfurl fully and how the stench will compare with earlier flowerings.”

The towering plant, of a species that famously stinks when it flowers, has grown about a yard in the last two weeks. 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.

The spathe beginning to pull back on Carolus, one of Cornell’s titan arums.

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.

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. Most parking on campus is free after 5pm, but check signs to be on the safe side.

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