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Corpse flower display at Myriad Gardens draws crowds with unpleasant scent

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corpse flower

Crystal the corpse flower at Myriad Gardens on Monday, April 4.

People can smell the monstrous corpse flower’s first bloom before they see it.

Sunday afternoon, a titan arum — colloquially known as a corpse flower — bloomed at the Myriad Gardens after eight and a half years of dedicated and careful cultivation by its staff. Its scent wafted through the halls of the gardens, traveling up the stairwell and finding its way into the noses of everyone in the building.

The flower attracted hundreds of people from across the state wanting to witness the enormous plant and its uniquely disgusting scent. Lines lasted up to three hours, and the garden opened early and closed late into the night. Leslie Spears, the director of marketing for the Myriad Gardens, said it was comforting to see such a high turnout.

corpse flower line

The line to see the corpse flower a few hours after it first bloomed on April 5, 2022. Photo via the Myriad Gardens Twitter.

“With this flower, it’s like we are one,” Spears said.

The flower — scientific name “Amorphophallus titanum” — is an endangered plant from Sumatra of Indonesia. Its popularity comes from both its unique smell and enormous size; the plant can grow up to 8 feet tall in cultivation and over 10 feet in its natural habitat.

Its smell is what gave the corpse flower its iconic name. To attract pollinators, the plant lets out a number of chemicals that are connected to some of the worst scents. Sweaty gym socks, rotting fish, feces and limburger cheese all radiate from the plant’s center. The scent is made worse as the center of the flower heats up to 99 degrees fahrenheit when it blooms. 

Myriad Gardens first began cultivating this titan arum after being gifted a seed by The Ohio State University eight and a half years ago. Nathan Tschaenn, the director of horticulture at Myriad Gardens, had previously worked at the university and reached out to previous contacts for the seed.

“It’s been great to just collaborate with so many different groups,” Tschaenn said.

More recently Tschaenn also reached out to the United States Botanic Gardens and Chicago Botanic Gardens for pollen so they can produce more seeds with the recent bloom. The corpse flower struggles to self-pollinate, making it difficult to produce more seeds without access to another plant.

The Myriad Gardens plan to share the seeds they produce from this bloom, Tschaenn said. He wants to continue the tradition and allow other people to propagate the endangered plant.

“If anyone wants the seeds, we’ll send it to them,” Tschaenn said. 

Another tradition with the corpse flower is naming them once they bloom. In the past, plants have been named “Planty McPlantface” at Swarthmore University and “Wee Stinky” at Cornell University. Myriad Gardens has named this bloom Crystal after their Crystal Bridge conservatory. 

Not everyone at the garden was prepared for the excitement Crystal would bring, Tschaenn said. While among certain groups, the titan arum is very popular, people who have not heard of it are not aware of its significance.

“Initially, it was hard to convince some of my coworkers that it was a big deal,” Tschaenn said. “But, seeing the crowds now, it’s exceeding even my expectations.”

Over the course of a few days, Crystal’s bloom attracted swaths of people from across Oklahoma. At some points, the line had gone out towards the road and could last as long as three hours. Throughout the bloom, the conservatory was encouraging donations in lieu of charging a fee to view the flower. 

“People have been so generous,” Spears said. “Everyone wants to give.”

Unfortunately, Crystal’s bloom was not open for long. Corpse flowers tend to close up after 24-36 hours. By Monday evening, Crystal’s scent was dissipating from the air of the lobby and it had begun retreating into itself, hiding its purple center.

Once Crystal’s first bloom closes, the plant will begin a new cycle of life. Tschaenn is hoping the plant will produce fruit from its pollination before going dormant until it sprouts a new leaf or, potentially, another flower. 

“It’s exciting to see if we get to witness the next step,” Tschaenn said.

Throughout the bloom, Myriad Gardens has been producing a livestream so more people can witness the flower’s growth without having to travel. The staff has also been creating a time lapse that will be available once the flower has fully closed. 

Crystal’s scent may have dissipated from the lobby of the Myriad Gardens, but the memory of the disgusting smell, gorgeous colors and massive height lives on through hundreds of photographs taken throughout the weekend by visitors and staff. 

“It’s a once-in-a-decade experience,” Spears said. “I’m so happy we got to share it with everyone.”

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