Halloween is just around the corner, which means the creepy and the dead are popping up out of the Earth—literally.
Amorphophallus titanum, more commonly and affectionately known as the “Corpse Flower,” is a plant that blossoms only once every few years, and when it does, it brings a stench to match the Halloween season.
The intrigue surrounding the strange flower is about more than just the reek. Generally, this tropical plant goes through a slow growth process; it spends years as a long, leafy green stem that will grow tall, without flowering.
Perhaps most interesting of all, it blooms every three or four years and does not stay open for very long.
Edward Read, the manager of the Cal State Fullerton Biology Greenhouse Complex, explained the process.
“Each year, it puts out one leaf, until the corn gets to a big enough size to flower. When it does, it will make a big inflorescent that lasts a month or two. When it opens, it only lasts like two to three nights,” said Read.
There are several leafy plants currently housed in the greenhouses (located behind the water towers across from Clayes Performing Arts Center). The Arboretum also had two Corpse Flowers given to them from the greenhouses. One of these, named Tiffy, last bloomed in 2006.
Tiffy was originally planted in 1993 and has blossomed every three to four years from that time until 2006. Tiffy’s spadix, the tall middle stem when the flower is open, was over four feet tall and still growing when it last bloomed. The spathe (petal-like structure surrounding the spadix) was expected to reach almost three feet across in full bloom.
Unfortunately, Cal State Fullerton has not seen the Corpse Flower blossom since 2006. Read said this is because the two in the Arboretum were over-watered and died.
The plants, currently in the greenhouses, were acquired through several steps of pollination. Traditionally, when the Corpse Flower opens, the stench is what attracts insects into the open petal-like structure, where they can pick up pollen or be used by the flower for food.
Matt Dalphin, a biochemistry major, found it fascinating.
“The Corpse Flower is interesting from a biological standpoint since its stench is thought to draw on insects for it to feed on, but most of its life is spent as an inconspicuous green stem,” said Dalphin.
The flowers at CSUF were pollinated manually. According to Read, pollen was taken from the Corpse Flowers in the Arboretum and used to pollinate another flower in San Diego. Seeds were then taken from that flower and planted here in the Greenhouse. It will still be another four to five years before they will bloom.
Amorphophallus titanum is native to tropical climates, typically in the central Sumatra rain forests in Indonesia. In Fullerton, the species reside in a specific greenhouse for tropical plants when not in the Arboretum among the various other unique plants.
Kyle Eager, a computer engineering major, said he likes that CSUF is home to such rare and unique plant life.
“It’s pretty cool that Cal State Fullerton has its own Corpse Flower. It’s something I’d expect to see in the rain forest, but not here,” he said.