In the words of the immortal Dr. Frankenstein, "It's Alive! Alive!"
The new bloom follows in the footsteps of the recent bloom of two corpse flowers — "Big Stinker and 'Lil Stinker" in the Greenhouse in May 2021, which grew to about 60 inches and 52 inches respectively. You can follow their journey and all of the latest information on the new bloom at Corpse Flower Central on the Ambler Campus website. Register here to view the corpse flower in person. A livestream of the bloom is also available below or at https://youtube.com/TempleUniversityAmblerCampus to view the corpse flower online.
"The new bloom may be slightly larger than the previous blooms — the tuber weighed about 57 pounds. This plant was a donation from Ohio State University in 2017," said Benjamin Snyder, Manager of the Greenhouse Education and Research Complex. "Based on the size of the tuber when we repotted and weighed this one, we determined that it was at blooming size. When it starts emerging from the ground, you start looking at the bud and the shape of the bud — if it's going to be a leaf it will be almost perfectly symmetrical like a cone; if it's going to be a flower bud, it has a bulge or an asymmetrical point to it."
According to Snyder, there are several telltale signs that signal a corpse flower is getting ready to open
"First, the outer protective bracts begin to fall away. Another aspect to watch is the overall growth pattern of the flower bud — as the bud first emerges from the soil, growth is typically slow," he said. "As time progresses, however, growth speeds up, sometimes reaching 2 to 3 inches in 24 hours. As the bud nears maturity (i.e., opening), growth slows down significantly. By reviewing the growth curve, you can predict how close you are to it opening. Finally, the coloration of the spathe will begin to turn purple towards the bottom."
Snyder said the blooming of this corpse flower is right around the corner — mid-April — and is growing about two to three inches a day.
The public will have the opportunity to view — and smell — the overwhelmingly pungent plant when it does bloom. Pre-registration is now live for viewing the Temple Ambler corpse flower in person in the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse Education and Research Complex!
We are offering this opportunity as a pay-what-you-will experience. Please consider donating to the Ambler Arboretum to help us continue to support and offer interesting plant experiences like these! While certainly appreciated, a donation is not required to view the corpse flower, but registration is! Viewing times are limited so register early!
We are estimating that the corpse flower will likely bloom sometime between Sunday, April 16 and Wednesday, April 19 (could be earlier, could be later — that’s up to the plant). Once we know the date of the blooms, registrants will receive an email with time slots available for viewing. Because classes are in session and the greenhouse is an active classroom space, the corpse flower may not be on display to the public for the entire 24 to 36 hours of its bloom time and viewings will be limited to the schedule outlined in the registration email.
Snyder is looking forward to the new bloom with great anticipation. He has a particular passion for the fascinating "oddballs" of the plant world.
"Our collection includes many plants that were collected in the wild, as well as rare items that you're not going to easily find and replace," said Snyder, a graduate of the Temple Tyler School of Art and Architecture's Horticulture program. "We have some wonderful species, such as Bird of Paradise, flowering cacti and lots of orchids, including the coconut pie orchid, which remarkably smells exactly like you think it would."
The Temple University Ambler Campus Greenhouse and the Ambler Arboretum don't disappoint when it comes to the fascinating and the strange. The Greenhouse provides a perfect home for an eclectic group of carnivorous plants, spiny cacti of every shape and size, and species that are a great deal more bizarre and decidedly more stinky than the aforementioned orchid.
In addition to the corpse flower that will soon bloom there are 11 other Amorphophallus titanum that call the Greenhouse home. The corpse flower is the largest "unbranched inflorescence" in the world. The tallest flowers grow to about seven feet in height while the leaves spread a full 12 feet and the tuber weighs in at a monster 150 pounds.
"You have to be patient with these plants as it typically takes seven to 10 years for them to flower and, in some instances, it can take up to 15 years. When they bloom, it's truly an event because it's still fairly rare in cultivation; people will come for miles to see an Amorphophallus bloom," he said. "There are a growing number of arboretum and botanical gardens that have them today, but they only bloom for 24 to 36 hours. If there's not one flowering near you, you'll likely not get a chance to see one because it only blooms for such a short period of time."
The fact that it attracts so much in-person interest runs counter to its other most well-known trait — when blooming it smells like death to an eye-watering degree. It's not called a corpse flower for nothing!
"The stench, the speckled maroon and pink coloring, it is this flower's way of attracting pollinators," Snyder said. "Rather than bees and butterflies, it attracts anything that would naturally be attracted to rotting meat, such as beetles and flies."
According to Snyder, the Amorphophallus titanum also goes through "thermogenesis." It can generate its own heat to a level that nearly mimics human body temperature, just another way to fool its pollinators.
"It's a technique that isn't unique to the Amorphophallus. Our native skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) blooms early; it can melt the snow around the flower," he said. "And yes, as the name suggests, they also stink and rely on flies and beetles as pollinators. They are in the same plant family, Araceae, as the Amorphophallus."
Corpse flowers are a threatened species "mostly due to habitat loss — destruction due to logging and agriculture."
"It's native to a very small region in western Sumatra; it's not a great area for ecological conservation. These plants are large, they are weird, they are unusual — they make people stop and think," he said. "From the blooms in 2021, I think the most interesting thing I took away from that experience was interacting with the people that came to see them — it was so many different types of people, not just horticulture people or plant people. This is a bucket list, once-in-a-lifetime, kind of thing for some people. People who know nothing about horticulture and aren't really interested in plants, they still want to come to see and smell this plant that looks like something out of a horror or science fiction movie."
Snyder said many of the more interesting species in the Greenhouse collection are used by classes — Plant Physiology for example — to get up close with plants that they might otherwise never experience.
"It's an opportunity for our students and visitors to the Arboretum to see the incredible diversity of plants and their adaptations. You're not going to run into something like the Amorphophallus very often, if ever," he said. "It raises awareness of an interest in nature and the world around us. We have this wonderful collection of fascinating plants — we hope more and more people take advantage of it."
For the home gardener, Snyder said, "many of these weird plants are really quite easy to grow, it is finding them for sale that is hard."
"I think the interest in out-of-the-ordinary plants all goes back to something different, something that stands out from the rest of the greenery. They are great attention-getters — most everyone has seen a bird of paradise flower, but not many have seen a giant corpse flower," he said. "Many of these plants are tropical, or not hardy in an outdoor garden, so these would be treated as houseplants by a home gardener. Of course, the benefit would be having something your neighbor doesn't have!"