Chicago’s ‘Corpse Flower’ Fails Expectations

Tourists and residents alike who were eagerly anticipating a whiff of the world’s most putrid flower were gravely disappointed earlier this month. The Chicago Botanic Garden displayed a new titan arum plant, named “Spike,” which failed to bloom on August 24 as expected. The amorphophallus titanum plant is known for having the largest unbranched flower on earth, and—more commonly— for excreting an odor that smells like a decaying body, earning the grotesque flower its unsavory nickname, the “corpse plant”. Its stench has been described as a delightful mixture of rotting meat, moldy cheese and sweaty feet. According to the Chicago Botanic Garden’s website, “the odor produced by the plant can be detected by pollinators up to an acre away, but is not overpowering—our volunteers (and visitors!) will be grossed out by it, but it’s unlikely anyone will become physically ill.”

Corpse Flower

‘Corpse Flower’. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A Disappointment

At nearly 70 inches tall, Spike was placed in the semi-tropical Chicago Botanic Garden on August 6 and was livestreamed for some time afterward. Spike’s performance was disappointing to say the least. According to NBC Chicago, the flower had failed to bloom in time and left visitors—57,000 to be exact—  dissatisfied. Tim Pollak, a Botanic Garden staffer, said, “Plants are plants; they can disappoint anybody, even home gardeners,” he told Marielle Shaw, of “Chicagoist.”

Why Didn’t Spike Bloom?

Botanists fostered the smelly plant for 12 years, yet when its moment to shine came around, Spike fell short of expectations. According to Karen Zaworski of the Chicago Botanic Garden, “corpse flowers,” which are indigenous to Sumatra and are the largest flowering plant species in the world, are grown from sunlight. The energy is then reserved inside a “corm” the size of a beach ball, characterized as a “tuber-like underground structure” on the plant. Because the species is so large, it needs a significant amount of energy in order to bloom, but Spike ran out of “juice” before its bloom cycle finished. Though the bloom cycle was cut short, Spike isn’t dying; rather, it has stopped growing.

“Manual” Bloom

Concerned, the scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden decided to manually open the rancid flower. They did this by cutting around the base of the flower and removing the pollen as onlookers crowded around, trying to catch a whiff of the pungent plant. Unfortunately, the flower did not emit any smell but patrons were granted the opportunity to see the plant’s insides. As of September 3, pollen has been harvested from Spike and will be used to pollinate other plants.

Adding salt to Chicago’s wounds, the Denver Botanic Garden’s “corpse flower” was able to bloom for 48 hours in early August.

Would you ever go and see a ‘corpse flower’?

Additional image: Chicago Tonight



Zara Zhi
Zara Zhi
Zara is a freelance writer and filmmaker who has worked for numerous magazines and news sites. When not coming up with puns or writing screenplays, she enjoys having blind children read to her and donating plasma TVs. Follow her on Twitter: @zarazhi