Ordinarily, when something reeks of rotting flesh, people tend to run in the opposite direction. But when it’s a rare amorphophallus titanium – more commonly known as a corpse flower – people will come from miles away.
That’s been the case at Tropical Bamboo Nursery and Gardens in Loxahatchee. One of their corpse flowers started to bloom on Sunday, sending out a putrid stench.
Nursery owner Robert Saporito said the smell is meant to attract more than just the botanically curious. The corpse flower is actually a group of flowers on a single stem, or inflorescence, and when the female flowers are ready to pollinate, they send out that smell to bring in flies, carrion beetles and other rot-loving creatures.
The bloom started Sunday, June 9. The smell had mostly dissipated by Tuesday, but it was still blooming, and attracting visitors, as of Wednesday afternoon.
Mindy Hassel of Vero Beach and her husband, both biology majors in college, said they missed a bloom at Ohio State years ago. They were excited to have another chance just an hour and a half drive away.
“It was awesome, a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Hassel. “I wish that it was in full bloom, but my nose probably appreciates that it wasn’t.”
Saporito said the nursery has gotten visitors from as far as Naples and Miami. Botanists from Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden stayed until after midnight on Sunday to help collect pollen. He says some is being shipped out to other botanical gardens to pollinate their corpse flowers, and the rest will be frozen for future blooms on their property.
The garden had about 400 corpse flowers. Saporito said they’ve sent all but 25 to botanical gardens and some up to Logee’s Tropical Plants in Connecticut. Its original two plants, the current bloomer and another that bloomed in 2014, came from a 2004 bloom at Walt Disney World.
The currently-blooming amorphophallus titanium took 13 years to flower – longer than the standard seven to 10, which Saporito attributes to keeping it in the shade.
Every year, the plant shoots up a petiole – a bright green stalk and leaves – to collect nutrients during the wet season and bring them down to the corm, a swollen stem base that lives under the soil. Because Florida features different predators and diseases than the flower’s native Sumatra, the nursery cleans, weighs and re-pots the corm every year after its petiole withers and the plant goes dormant.
When the plant is over 40 pounds, or 50 in the case of Bamboo Gardens’ two bloomers, it sends up a big pod instead of a petiole.
“It looks like a big pistachio,” says Saporito.
From there, the nursery’s staff measure its growth – about 3-6 inches a day – and when it slows to less than an inch, they know it will bloom soon. The nursery posted updates on the corpse flower’s progress on its Facebook page.
Social media and local news reports drove a steady stream of visitors to see and smell the rare plant, including Barbara Crawford. She and her husband David have visited Borneo, which neighbors the plant’s native Sumatra. She said she read about a corpse flower at the botanical garden there and tried to go, but didn’t make it.
“The people I was with were just not interested,” she said.
When she saw reports about another corpse flower blooming less than two hours away from her Vero Beach home, she said she told her family: “I have to go down there.”