Chicago Botanic Garden: World’s smelliest plant about to bloom

Chicago Botanic Garden: World’s smelliest plant about to bloom
Chicago Botanic Corpse Flower on the brink of blooming

Since August 6th people have been waiting to catch a whiff of the world’s largest and smelliest flowering plant, titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also called the corpse flower, nicknamed, “Spike” at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The wait actually began in 2003 when the garden acquired nine titan arum seedlings that they planted in their semi-tropical greenhouses.

It takes years for seedlings to develop into corms (a type of underground tuber or bulb) that eventually send up a single annual leaf. The corm then takes from seven to ten years to produce a large and smelly spike (when it blooms) that at maturity can reach 8 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds.

Anticipation has been growing, right along with “Spike” as many people return day after day to see if the plant has “bloomed.”

When it does bloom (I’m betting on tomorrow afternoon), it happens suddenly and dramatically. If you want to catch the “smell”–which is said to be nauseating–you’ll have to be quick or live nearby.

The plant is estimated to only bloom for about 24 to 48 hours but the foul odor, that seems to be attracting national attention, is expected to be at its strongest for only about 4 hours from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. at night.

The Botanic Garden will be accommodating guests by staying open late, very late, on the day that “Spike” finally comes into bloom.

Normal summer closing hours at the garden are at 9 p.m. but the garden will remain open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on “Spike’s” special day.

The regular parking fee will be waived after 9 p.m., but visitors will be restricted to visiting the Semitropical Greenhouse in the Garden’s Regenstein Center only. No other amenities will be accessible.

After the peak bloom, the plant will remain on display with interpretation that educates visitors about it. The garden is located at 1000 Lake Cook Rd, in Glencoe, 1/2 mile east of the Edens Expressway.

Show Me Chicago will have updates on our Facebook page, on Twitter @showmechicago and here.


Thursday, August 27, afternoon update:

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) called Spike is taking his time- he is as unpredictable as he is rare.  Every corpse flower has their own story to tell and Spike is no different.  The plant’s height this afternoon remains at 68 inches, his girth remains at 39.25 inches.  We are seeing signs of progression, but no clear indication of bloom.

Friday, August 28, 5 p.m. update:

Since Spike, the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), is taking longer than normal to open, today Tim Pollak, Patrick Herendeen, and Shannon Still checked for pollen inside the spathe. Finding no pollen inside, they conclude the flowers are still viable and maturing. Other encouraging signs are that the plant’s temperature is 5 degrees above the air temperature in the greenhouse and they noticed a stench when opening the spathe.

Saturday, August 29, 6 p.m. update:

Looks like “Spike” might need a little help from his friends…but will open tomorrow (Sunday) at 10 a.m.–here’s the latest from the CBG…

Spike, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s rare and unpredictable titan arum(Amorphophallus titanum), has piqued interest and curiosity more than any other plant at the Garden. Conservation scientists and horticulturists have now determined that Spike lacks the energy to open by itself. Members of the horticulture and conservation science departments, Tim Pollak, Patrick Herendeen, and Shannon Still, will remove the spathe, cutting around the base of the flower just above where it attaches to the stalk of the plant. At that time, we will determine if the male flowers are functional. If they are, the scientists will harvest pollen for future use in pollination. It is a common practice in horticultural plant breeding as well as science research practice to dissect the plant in search of pollen, or remove the spathe entirely to make manual pollination easier, which supports plant diversity and conservation.Its corm will rest for a short period, then recharge itself by sending up a 12-foot-tall leaf to absorb sunlight, replacing the huge amount of energy expended by its attempt to bloom. At this time, the Garden has eight additional titan arum plants that we are watching carefully for bloom.

Spike Update, noon, August 30th

Spike behaved like a real gentleman at this morning’s opening by allowing the CBG scientists to manually extract his bloom without putting up a stink.

And more good news!

Spike will live to bloom again (although it will take a few more years). His corm (bulb) will be replanted and is expected to generate another flower in three to five years.

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