Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In St. Peter: Waiting for the corpse flower to bloom October 29, 2013

PERRY MANIA is invading Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

A shot through a window into the viewing area shows Perry beginning to open.

A shot through a window into the viewing area shows Perry beginning to open in late July 2010.

OK, that may be a bit of a stretch. You decide, But interest in the predicted early November blooming of Perry, otherwise known as the “corpse flower,” is strong.

Think web cams, “featured news” on the college website, headlines in the St. Peter Herald, a Perry blog and even Perry themed t-shirts, cap, mugs, tote bag, bumper sticker and other merchandise available for purchase.

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

A close-up of Perry’s unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

And all of this because the rare tropical plant, a native of Sumatra in Indonesia and with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, is about to blossom.

This mammoth plant, which can reach heights of eight to 10 feet and a life span of 40 years, is noted for its distinct rotting flesh/rotting meat odor.

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

A shot through the window into the viewing area of the titan arum shows the high level of interest in the corpse flower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Three years ago, my husband, son and I were among the 5,000 plus curious who flocked to the third floor greenhouse in the Nobel Hall of Science to view, and smell, the Amorphophallus titanum, aka Titan Arum. Gustavus named its plant, seeded in 1993, after the Titan Hyperion, associated with intellectual curiosity. That would be Perry, for short.

I don’t recall the precise smell of Perry only 12 hours after the plant began blooming in late July 2010. But I do remember thinking the odor was not nearly as bad as I had imagined and that I’ve smelled worse (like a slurry pit being emptied) while traveling through rural Minnesota.

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

The odor was too much for this boy, who covered his face with a perfumed bandanna when visiting Perry in 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But others, such as elementary-aged kids from Edina, pressed perfumed bandannas to their noses.

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

A diagram explains the life cycle of “the corpse plant.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

To see, and smell, a corpse flower in bloom is a rare opportunity, one limited to only a few days. This marks Perry’s third blooming. And there isn’t exactly an abundance of these plants in the world, one of the reasons Gustavus botanists are invested in conservation of the Titan Arum. Gustavus received 20 Titan Arum seeds from a San Francisco physician  in 1993 and Perry is the result.

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

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry in July 2010. Perry has previously bloomed in 2007 and 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Is Perry worth seeing, worth smelling, worth photographing? Definitely.

If you’re hypersensitive to odors, though, pack your perfumed bandanna.

FYI: As early November nears, be sure to check the Gustavus Adolphus website (click here) often for updates on Perry and the precise date when blooming is expected. Some Facebook fans are predicting blossoming on Halloween or even earlier.

 

10 Responses to “In St. Peter: Waiting for the corpse flower to bloom”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    I am rather confused. I remember my Grandmother had a corpse lily that looked nothing like this one nor the other examples I googled. Yes – it smelled VILE.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Now that is interesting. Any readers out there have answers for Marilyn?

      How often did your Grandmother’s corpse lily bloom?

      • Marilyn Says:

        I was just a youngester, but I rather think it came up yearly. It was not in a pot, but in the garden soil on the south side of her back porch – near the lily of the valley!!! I sorta think the blossom was similar to a small lily. I have been trying to track down what it could possibly have been. A funny story from wiki: Chanel, UC Santa Barbara’s corpse flower was pollinated from pollen they had flown in from the corpse lily at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. which is/was named Mortimer. 🙂

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You’ve found some interesting info, Marilyn. I hope you get specific answers on your grandma’s stinky lily.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    I have heard of these but never have had the occasion to view or smell one. Very interesting–especially if it blooms on Halloween. That seems appropriate!

  3. How COOL Is That – AMAZING – Great Captures!!! I have a strong sense of smell and an even stronger palatte – not sure if I could handle this or not – ha! Happy Tuesday – thanks so much for sharing:)

  4. HOW COOL IS THIS? Totally going to check out the web site.


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