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Rare, smelly 'corpse plant' ready to bloom at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. Aug. 27, 2002-- Just in time for the return of Virginia Tech students for fall semester, the Amorphophallus titanum, or "corpse plant," is ready to bloom, probably during the coming week, and emit its intensely powerful stench.

A blooming Amorphophallus titanum, or titan arum, is rare, according to Khidir Hilu of Virginia Tech's biology department, which operates the greenhouse hosting the plant. The plant's blooming drew more than 76,000 visitors in 1999 to the Huntington Botanical Garden in California and 5,500 visitors to Fairchild Garden in Florida. At the Botanic Garden of the University of Bonn, Germany, the line to see the flowering titan arum extended over two miles

Located in the greenhouse complex next to the Virginia Tech Horticulture Gardens, the smelly plant can't help its malodorous contribution to the atmosphere. The plant invests a lot of energy during blooming to heat up the sulfur-based compound in the flower stalk, so the carrion-like odor will spread several feet away from the plant to attract pollinators--carrion beetles and flesh-flies. The amount of energy needed to bloom causes the plant to do so only every four to 10 years.

The blooms, however, last only two to three days, so visitors will have to be vigilant to see and smell it. A flowering stalk can be seven to 12 feet in height and three to four feet in diameter. After the bloom dies, a leaf stalk resembling a tree sapling will begin to emerge.

The plant was first discovered in 1878 in Indonesia, first cultivated at the Royal Botanic Gardens in England in 1887, and first bloomed in the United States at the New York Botanical Garden in 1937. According to Hilu, the plant has bloomed only about 20 times since its introduction to the United States.

The titan arum is in the same plant family as familiar house plants such as Dieffenbachia, Philodendrons, and Anthuriums.


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Contact: Khidir Hilu
hilukw@vt.edu
540-231-5407
Virginia Tech
27-Aug-2002


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