Stalking A Blooming Corpse Plant

A titan arum aka ‘corpse plant’ in bloom | Scot Mitamura photo

Having a hobby makes you do strange things. This being my very first, I did not realize it until I began doing them. Take, for example, my dogged pursuit of a flower that is renowned for its propensity to make people gag when they approach it.

I’m talking about the Amorphophallus titanum, or titan arum, otherwise known by its charming nickname, the corpse plant. The reason it’s called the corpse plant is because when it blooms, that magnificent flower emits an overpowering odor of rotting flesh. I couldn’t wait to see it!

So here’s what happened. I decided to visit Foster Botanical Garden on the day they brought the as-yet-unopened plant into the conservatory for display. Scot Mitamura, orchid horticulturist, proudly explained that it was about to bloom “any day now.”

Having never heard of the plant, I had no idea why he was so excited, so I did what everyone does in that situation. I Googled. And then I got excited, too.

The titan arum is a rare plant originating in the jungles of Sumatra. It takes 10 years to come to maturity. And once it blooms, it takes years to bloom again.

So I stalked it. I called every single morning to check on its status. Luckily, the nice cashier at Foster Garden, Anna, was understanding and patient. We even joked about how long the lazy plant was taking to wake up. Finally, more than a week after that chance encounter – it did, at 2 in the morning. I got there by 11 a.m.

By that time, the odor had subsided somewhat and I must admit I was disappointed. I wanted the full experience, stench and all. Still, I was able to detect an unmistakable aroma of rotting fish, and when I stuck my head into the flower (oh, yes, I did), it was pretty sickening. That made me happy.

Now, here’s what makes this such a good story – and newsworthy, too.

Mitamura, who oversees the conservatory and the tropical plants displayed within it, says Foster Garden has eight of these relatively rare plants. That’s right, eight.

Mitamura says the man who sold them their first plant happened to be visiting last year from the East Coast when it bloomed for the first time amid a flurry of local publicity. Louis Ricciardiello made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“He asked if we wanted some more,” Mitamura says, “and I said, ‘sure!'”

Well, they were blown away when Ricciardiello donated not one, but seven blooming-sized bulbs.

“He shipped them over in a watermelon crate and paid for everything,” Mitamura says. “He wouldn’t accept any payment.”

That is a huge deal, in many ways. These plants produce the largest single flowers in the world. The bulb that produced the flower I photographed weighs more than 100 pounds.

“Once they get to blooming size,” says Mitamura, “they bloom once every three to five years. So that means virtually every year one can be blooming.”

And that will put our little Foster Botanical Garden on the map – literally. It’s a beautiful place that most locals don’t even know about, and it might become famous worldwide. Mitamura says he’s trying to get the staff to prepare for it – maybe by opening extra hours when the plants bloom, “doing something fun.”

So, if you missed it this year – and most people did, as they kept it under wraps – don’t be disappointed. Thanks to the generosity of Louis Ricciardiello, you will have many chances to view the spectacular bloom and to savor the disgusting aroma for yourself. You just might get to share the experience with plant lovers from all over the world.