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.

Advertisements
 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:15 PM
Tags: , , , ,

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