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The rare corpse flower is set to bloom at Huntington gardens


It’s about to reek at the Huntington.

Think: gym socks, rotten eggs, dead rats trapped in the air vents, stinky.

Another rare corpse flower is set to bloom any day now at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, unleashing its notoriously pungent odor into the conservatory. For many plant lovers, heading to San Marino to catch a whiff of the latest Amorphophallus titanum has become a summer tradition. But this year, the phenomenon will be a bit different.

When the tropical flower — nicknamed Allan the Amorphophallus — unfurls, it will mark the second-latest start to the season at the Huntington. In past years, like clockwork, the towering flowers have first blossomed in June and July, said Brandon Tam, associate curator of the Huntington’s orchid collection.

A green-and-brown corpse flower stands tall with other plants in the background

As of Thursday morning, the corpse flower was nearly 5 feet tall, according to Brandon Tam, associate curator of the Huntington’s orchid collection.

(Courtesy of the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens)

This one is teetering closer to a September bloom, which has happened only one other time, in 2020. Staff hopes it will bloom this weekend. Those hoping to catch the bloom, or perhaps to watch it bloom without the stink, can check out a livestream tracking the plant’s growth.

Since 1999, the Huntington has hosted 21 corpse flower blooms. The putrid flowers — native to the rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia — can reach more than 8 feet tall, climbing up to 6 inches each day. They stink while they bloom, which lasts for about one to three days.

The flower grabbing all of the attention this year is 21 years old and has reached the maturity needed to bloom. The Huntington has 43 such plants, some of which have bloomed while others have yet to.

Tam remembers the first time he smelled one. It was a June bloom in 2009. At the time, he was 14 years old and a volunteer at the Huntington gardens.

People view the corpse flower at the Huntington gardens on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 in San Marino, CA.

People view the corpse flower at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens. The pungent plants produce a stench that mimics rotting animals, attracting pollinators such as carrion flies and beetles.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

“I mean, this was something out of a sci-fi novel,” he said, reminiscing.

Tam was taken aback by the unique shape of the plant — “like a Napa cabbage with a giant baguette coming out of the center” — and, of course, the smell.

Even 14 years later, “you never get used to the smell,” said Tam, who has witnessed more than 10 blooms now. “It almost lingers when you go home, staying with you for at least a few good hours before you can get it out of your head.”

Corpse flowers produce a stench that mimics rotting animals, attracting pollinators such as carrion flies and beetles, which usually lay eggs on animal carcasses. The smell has inspired a tradition of odorous nicknames for each bloom, like 2021’s “Stankosaurus Rex.

When “Allan” unleashes its stench, it will be a bittersweet bloom for Tam, who said he is concerned by the uncharacteristically late start to the season.

The plant was already off schedule because of the number of gloomy weather days this year, Tam said. He had to push his predicted date for the bloom even later because Hurricane Hilary lowered temperatures for the plant — which thrives in a warm, humid climate.

Tam said he’s concerned with how the changing climate will disrupt life cycles as plants “try to evolve and adapt quickly.” And yet the flower stands as a symbol of hope.

Although still endangered — there are fewer than 1,000 in the wild — the corpse flower is a “conservation success story,” Tam said.

When the Huntington first exhibited an Amorphophallus titanum in 1999, it was the first to bloom in California — and only the 11th recorded bloom in the United States. Curiosity was high for the pungent plant, which grew a reputation for being the world’s largest flower (although that’s not entirely true — the corpse flower is actually the largest unbranched inflorescence).

Now, Tam said, he has “lost track” of the amount of seedlings the Huntington has shared with botanical gardens across the nation.

“Through our efforts of conservation and producing so many different seedlings, our chances of seeing this plant has increased dramatically throughout the United States, and of course here at the Huntington,” he said.

Close-up of green and brown detail of corpse flower

When the Huntington first exhibited an Amorphophallus titanum in 1999, it was the first to bloom in California — and only the 11th recorded bloom in the United States.

(Courtesy of the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens)

In July, corpse flowers bloomed at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers and at the San Diego Botanic Gardens. Tam said he hopes the allure of the plant will inspire visitors to pay more attention to other plants that also have dwindling populations.

“This is just one plant that had a success story, while there are many other plants in the world that are just not as sexy or interesting or weird,” he said. “We hope this is a gateway to pulling people in.”

How to visit Allan the Amorphophallus titanum

Hours:

Visitors can see the flower during public hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays) in the Huntington’s conservatory. Because of a potentially invasive terrestrial snail, only the front of the conservatory, where the flower is located, is open. Reservations are not required to visit weekdays but are highly encouraged. Reservations are required for weekends, free days and Monday holidays.

Admission: $13 to $29; children 3 and younger, free.

Info: huntington.org





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