Department of Biological Sciences
California State University
Chico, California 95929-0515
Office: Headhouse 103
Campus phone # (530) 898-5229
Campus FAX # (530) 898-5060
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Watch a video of the Corpse Flower
Corpse flower stinking up the place at Chico State
By ROBIN EPLEY - Staff Writer, Chico Enterprise Record
CHICO -- Looking like it belongs in the rain-forest jungle of a land lost before time, the apmorphophallus titanum, better known as the corpse flower, is now blooming rather stinkily in the greenhouse at Chico State University.
One of only several in California, the plant is native to the island of Sumatra and is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. It's related to the common calla lily and philodendron.
Most corpse flowers only bloom once every few years. Chico State's specimen, given to the college by UC Davis several years ago, seems to be on a three-year cycle. And good thing too, because it stinks up the place.
"The upper part makes it stink," said greenhouse technician and instructional support technician for the university's biology department, Tim Devine. Devine was referring to the plant's "spadix," the tall middle growth of the flower. He explained that during the original blooming, the tip of the spadix can reach human-body temperatures in order to spread the perfume. The smell reminds most people of decaying flesh.
That perfume, as stinky as it may be to humans, attracts the flies and carrion beetles that help to pollinate the plant. Visitors who came to see the rare flower found that the smell came in heady waves, rather than a constant stink. Devine said that when the flower bloomed Wednesday night, the smell was noticeable from the street roughly 600 feet away.
Chico State's corpse flower will be in full bloom for the next few days. After that, the burgundy "spathe," the flowery skirt of the plant, will wilt. It will be several months before the plant begins to sprout again, and it will eventually take another three years to bloom. It has bloomed twice previously, once in 2004 and again in 2007. "I think it's gross and beautiful at the same time," said Sandy Moore of Chico, who visited the greenhouse Thursday afternoon. "The only other one that I know about is in Davis. It's so cool that we have one here."
Moore came three years ago to see the plant in its previous blooming and said she thought this year's was a little bigger. In reality, 2010's bloom was about half an inch smaller than 2007's, according to Devine. Devine said the first year the flower bloomed, he counted the amount of visitors, which totaled nearly 1,400. He expects roughly the same amount of curious visitors this year.
"They just come in waves," he said. "Like the smell."