February can be a bleak time on the East Coast. Days are short and the sky hangs low on the horizon. But there’s a small-sized perennial whose early, colorful blooms never fail to lift my mood. It’s the lovely, cup-shaped flower called hellebore, commonly known as the Lenten Rose. Continue reading →
Lots of exotic fruits have been turning up in American produce aisles lately. Colorful and peculiar, they have odd shapes, strange features like fuzzy hair and curious tastes like cucumber melon. Continue reading →
Peace lilies can help clear the air of harmful toxins
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans on average spend 90 percent of their time indoors. And indoor environments can be poor, trapping dangerous chemical toxins as well as bacteria, pollens and mold. Continue reading →
December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, the day Americans honor the plant that has become a symbol of the holiday season. And while not everyone’s a fan, it’s hard not to marvel at the species’ growing popularity. Continue reading →
This season many of us will be hanging mistletoe as part of a long-standing tradition. And while kissing under its evergreen branches is a holiday ritual, the plant doesn’t necessarily have our best interests in mind. Why? Because mistletoe contains a Christmas cocktail of toxins that can be harmful to human and pet health. I’d advise keeping it out of reach if it’s going to be part of your seasonal decorations. Continue reading →
The dried fruits and white seeds of black pepper, Piper nigrum
I’ve been a fan of black pepper since early childhood when my mom would sprinkle my morning eggs with the aromatic spice. Later, I grew to love the coarser varieties. Ground at the table, the dried fruits tumbled onto my salad leaves, invigorating my meals with their gritty flavor. White pepper came later. A key ingredient in many Swedish dishes, it enlivened all of our family smorgasbords. Continue reading →
They say if you’re mama don’t know, you should go ask your papa. But, it’s anyone’s guess why Americans aren’t growing and eating the delicious fruit known as pawpaw. The small-sized tree produces the largest edible fruit native to North America. Continue reading →
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
I like to think of fall from an Alice In Wonderland perspective. That is, autumn is a time when we shrink in proportion to our gardens while the leaves ‘bloom’ above us. And each year, nature produces new surprises, dazzling us with color schemes so daring as to leave little doubt about her ability to create designs far superior to our own. Continue reading →
It was like it was meant to be. Three years ago, I wrote about a rare corpse flower called ‘Stinky’ housed at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Back then, it was the first time the 15-year old, putrid-smelling plant had bloomed since 2007. The event made national news because Stinky had been in a vegetative state for almost a decade, producing a single leaf but never a flower.
STINKY FLOWERS AGAIN
I never saw the 2015 bloom, which lasted for just 24 hours, making the viewing of it impossible unless you lived in the area. So imagine my surprise when this weekend, I was passing through Denver only to discover that Stinky was flowering again! I hopped in a cab to go check out the action.
Corpse flower, or Titan arum, is one of the oldest and biggest species of flowering plants in the world. Blooming just once every few years and sometimes as rarely as 10, it is known for its putrid odor and gigantic, single flower. Titan arum is what is referred to as a ‘carrion’ flower, or showy, stinking flower that emits a smell like rotting flesh.
Although native to the rainforests of Sumatra, corpse flowers are a relatively rare occurrence around the world. There are only about 100 known specimens in cultivation. The first ever recorded flowering of one was at the New York Botanical Gardens in 1937. As for the Denver Botanic Garden, they acquired theirs in 2007. It remained in a vegetative state until 2015 when it suddenly produced a single, awe-inspiring bloom.
Stinky, next to his growth chart
At the Gardens, staff refer to their corpse flower as ‘beloved’ and that rings true, as evidenced by the spontaneous smiles upon its many visitors’ faces. Friendly volunteers pointed me to the Marnie Pavilion where Stinky is housed. I joined a line of people pinching their noses and waiting their turn to get up close to the unusual flower while above us a webcam recorded the plant’s every move over the course of 48 hours.
WHAT MAKES CORPSE FLOWERS SO UNUSUAL?
In its vegetative state, the corpse flower has a single, un-branched inflorescence (a cluster of flowers arranged on a single stem) that resembles a tree trunk. It is considered to be the largest inflorescence in the world. The corpse flower’s stem can reach over 10 feet in height and measure 3 to 4 feet in diameter.
Green and white speckled stem of corpse flower
In its non-flowering years, the stem produces a single, gigantic leaf that branches into an array of tiny leaflets. Together, they form a canopy much like a small tree and can persist for up to 12 to 18 months.
Corpse flower stem and ‘leaf’ in its native habitat
But in its flowering year, the corpse flower produces a single bloom that it was one of the world’s largest, sometime measuring as large as 6 to 8 feet. The massive bell-shaped bract is bright green on the outside and deep red on the inside with a deeply furrowed texture. Rising from within is a dull yellow floral spike that some liken to a loaf of French bread.
Finally, at the base of the spike are two rows of small, orange-red flowers. (You have to get awfully close to Stinky to see these.)
A close-up of Stinky’s bloom
During bloom, the tip of the floral spike gradually warms until it is approximately the temperature of a human body. This helps the ‘fragrance’ disperse.
A pair of Titan arums in Sumatra ca. 1900-40 showing leaf (left) and flower (right)/Photo courtesy Tropenmuseum
The death of the corpse flower is a quick one. The bract folds inwards, then the flower spike topples over and shrivels up. The whole process, from initial flowering to demise, occurs within a 24- to 48-hour period.
A collapsed corpse flower
A SCENT LIKE NO OTHER
Variously compared to the smell of rotting meat, eggs, fish (or flesh), dirty diapers, and/or Limburger cheese, the corpse flower’s fragrance is, well, unforgettable.
Why is it so stinky? It turns out the flower’s main pollinators are carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies who love the smell of rotting meat. To attract them, the plant emits its aroma in stages, gradually intensifying its scent over hours until it has whipped its pollinators into a carnivorous frenzy. The deep red color and texture of the bract, which resemble that of meat, further contribute to the illusion.
And yes, Stinky was pretty awful smelling — a strange mix of dirty socks and rotting cheese permeated the conservatory. (I can’t attest to the corpse smell, having never encountered one.) The plant was simply displayed on a metal table next to a growth chart labelled #StinkyDBGReturns.
According to the Denver Post, over 12,000 people visited Stinky in 2015, making him one popular flower. (This year’s numbers weren’t available at the time of this posting.) I lucked out and waited only a short time to see the Gardens’ prize specimen. If you’re ever in the area on the next day Stinky decides to bloom, its definitely worth the trip.
The Denver Botanic Gardens are located at 1007 York Street in Denver, Colorado. Best to buy tickets on line first if you’re planning to see Stinky.