What’s Not Quite Blooming: Boston’s Giant Corpse Flower

It’s big, it’s stinky, and it’s about to burst into bloom. The Franklin Park Zoo is waiting for an Amorphophallus titanum—a.k.a. corpse flower or titan arum—to flower in its greenhouse.

Titan Arum, U.S. Botanic Garden

Titan Arum, U.S. Botanic Garden

It will blossom for just a day or so once it deigns to unfurl its enormous, reeking petals; these fetid inflorescences can stretch up to six feet tall. The Twitter hashtag for spotting the imminent Franklin Park Zoo emergence is #Morticiawatch.Titan arums grow in the wild in Sumatra, where they attract swarms of flies by emitting the tender scent of rotting flesh. They’re the tropical equivalent of skunk cabbage.

You don’t have to go to Indonesia to see them, though. Domestically, they’re grown in, well, pretty much any greenhouse with space. One bloomed at the Harvard Biological Laboratories in 2010; the University of Connecticut greenhouses have had several blooming over the past few years; their most recent titan arum opened last Saturday, just in time for Father’s Day! Unfortunately, the greenhouse was closed on Sunday due to low staffing and the summer break.

The Franklin Park Zoo’s titan arum was grown by a dentist in Laconia New Hampshire. Note that he is not keeping the plant in his home greenhouse for the bloom. I don’t know how he could resist having the smell of a rotting corpse permeate his greenhouse’s ventilation system on a warm summer day. Some people are just fussy, I guess.

Unlike the UConn greenhouse, the Franklin Park Zoo will be open extended hours for smelly flower fans for as long as Morticia deigns to grace us with her noisome presence.. See the zoo web site for details. Or just wait until UConn grows another one next year.