“Wee Stinky,” Cornell’s original corpse flower, is about to bloom again

Cornell University has rare titan arum, or corpse flower, plants, and one of them is likely to bloom this week. 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.

Cornell's Paul Cooper and Bill Crepet measure Wee Stinky, the titan arum that's about to bloom. Photo by Matt Hayes provided.

Cornell’s Paul Cooper and Bill Crepet measure Wee Stinky, the titan arum that’s about to bloom. Photo by Matt Hayes provided.

“Wee Stinky” is one of Cornell’s two titan arums of flowering size, and it’s the one that bloomed in 2012 and 2014. Last year, their titan arum named “Carolus” bloomed. The team at Cornell expects it to bloom by October 15th.

““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.

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. 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.”

Cornell says Wee Stinky is one of hundreds of plants in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory, which is open to the public most weekdays from 10am to 3pm. When flowering starts, they’ll extend the hours so everyone can some see — and smell — the remarkable plant. They’ll remain open until 9pm when it first flowers, then open from 9am-9pm the next day. (10am-9pm if it’s a weekend.)

According to Craig Cramer, Wee Stinky measured 84.5 inches on Wednesday morning, after more than tripling in height in three weeks. It’s already much bigger than the last time it bloomed, when it hit 76 inches in height in 2014. According to Cornell, more than 10,000 people visited when the plant first bloomed in 2012, and more than 500,000 watched online.

Updates and facility hours are available at Cornell’s titan arum website, titanarum.cals.cornell.edu, along with a webcam so you can watch if you can’t visit.

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