Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Inside the pearly gates of St. Peter, visitors view the notorious “corpse flower” July 26, 2010

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A sign at Gustavus Adolphus College directs visitors to the Nobel Hall of Science where "the corpse flower" grows.

FOR SOME, PERRY’S flesh-rotting odor proved too repugnant.

But they came prepared—they being the four Edina kids who traveled to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter Friday morning to view the flowering of Gustavus’ Amorphophallus titanium, otherwise known as “Hyperion” and nicknamed “Perry.”

With perfumed bandannas in hand, the three Yang siblings and a friend trooped past Perry, the native Indonesian plant that last bloomed in this southern Minnesota college greenhouse in 2007. The large plant (this one is about six feet tall) produces an offending odor that, based on the comments I heard Friday morning, ranges from smelling like barf to fish at an Asian market to “my son’s bedroom.”

I watched with amusement through a greenhouse viewing window as the Yang kids and their friend passed by Perry, handkerchiefs clasped firmly to their faces for much of the brief encounter.

One of the Yang boys wards off the offending odor with a bandanna.

Filtering the offending odor with a bandanna.

Admittedly, Perry does stink, producing an offending odor designed to attract pollinators. This past weekend, Perry also attracted plenty of attention from the media, scientists and just plain curious visitors like my husband, son and I who stopped en route to a family reunion in southwestern Minnesota around noon Friday. About 12 hours earlier, at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Hyperion opened.

I didn’t know quite what to expect when we reached the greenhouse on the third floor of the Nobel Hall of Science at Gustavus. Surprisingly, I was pleasantly surprised. With camera in hand—no bandanna for me—I entered the viewing area fully prepared to find a decaying smell so overpowering that I would snap a few pictures and flee.

Instead, I discovered an odor that, in all honesty, I found more tolerable than stench that sometimes wafts across the countryside from animal manure at large-scale farming operations.

Perhaps if I had returned Sunday, when Perry was at full bloom, my opinion would have changed. The odor would just get worse as the flowering progressed, we were told Friday.

Maybe then I, too, would have pressed a perfumed bandanna to my nose, filtering the odorous smell of Perry, “the corpse flower.”

I shot this image through a window in the viewing area of the the greenhouse where the curious gathered to see Perry.

A close-up of Perry's unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry, which lasted until Sunday.

A close-up of the sheath that protects the inner tube-like structure called the spadix. The hundreds of small flowers are on the spadix.

A diagram explains the life cycle of "the corpse plant."

A shot through the window into the viewing area of the titan arum.

As of noon Friday, most visitors who signed Perry's guestbook came from the St. Peter-Mankato area. However, as word of the blooming spread, visitors were expected from all over--some had already come from Paris and Sweden (they were already visiting in the area). My husband added our names to the guestbook.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling