Stinking blossom studied at CSUF

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The corpse flower on loan from OCC bloomed in CSUF’s greenhouse in early August, the first time in eight years one of the flowers has done so on campus. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)
The corpse flower on loan from OCC bloomed in CSUF’s greenhouse in early August, the first time in eight years one of the flowers has done so on campus. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

When the titan arum flower bloomed in early August, it filled the Cal State Fullerton Greenhouse with the awful stench of rotting flesh – a stench which hadn’t graced the greenhouse since 2006.

The aptly named corpse flower, which stands nearly four feet tall, produces its putrid odor the same way that plug-in air fresheners do – using heat to evaporate the volatile chemicals.

The corpse flower, however, uses that process to produce a smelly gas, said Greenhouse manager Edward Read.

“(The corpse flower) has an old sweaty clothes smell,” Read said, describing the foul smell that the corpse flower produces.
“Or if you’re driving along a country road and smell a rotting deer.”

The massive flower gives off this horrendous stench to attract pollinators just like flowers use a pleasant floral scent to attract bees and other types of pollinators.

The corpse flower uses the smell of rotting flesh to attract flesh eating beetles and flies that search inside the flower for the source of the smell.

The source of the heat comes from the spadix – the tall, cylindrical center of the plant.

At its peak, this corpse flower heated up to 88 degrees while the room temperature was 70 degrees.

The corpse flower was brought in from Orange Coast College for a collaborative observational experiment to see how much heat is created by the plant during its two-day blooming period.

Jarrett Jones, a 22-year-old biology major and greenhouse assistant, was surprised when he found out that a blooming corpse flower was coming to the CSUF Greenhouse.

“I was not expecting to see one bloom until after I graduated,” Jones said. “I thought I would have to come back and see one of ours bloom but the one we borrowed from OCC (bloomed), and I was here and able to see it. It was pretty awesome.”

The colossal corpse flower, whose latin name Amorphophallus titanum literally translates to the misshapen phallus giant, is native to the rainforest and limestone hills of western Indonesia and is infamous for its rare and putrid smelling bloom.

While CSUF does have its own corpse flowers, none of them were expected to bloom this summer.

Read is expecting one of the CSUF owned corpse flowers to bloom in 2016, at which time he wants to put it on public display in the arboretum.

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