Little shop of horrors at UConn

The Corpse Flower blooms about every decade. The leaves collect energy for the flower to grow when it's ready. (Photo by Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

It may not be a venus flytrap that eats people, but a corpse flower lives in one of the University of Connecticut greenhouses, Clinton Morse, manager of growth operations for the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, said.

Amorphophallus titanum, better known as the corpse flower, gets its nickname from the unusual smell it produces when it blooms, Morse said.

“The flower gets its name from the robust stench of rotting flesh that it emanates upon blooming in order to attract its particular pollinators, in this case sweat bees and carrion beetles,” Morse said. “These insects can be attracted from many miles away in the lush rainforest environment where another active bloom may be miles away.”

The most recent bloom was in June 2012, Morse said. The first bloom was in 2004, nine years after the original seeds were sown; so, it may be some time before there is another smelly bloom.

“We have a couple larger plants that may be approaching blooming age/size, but my best guess is at least a couple more years until we see another blossom,” Morse said.

Morse said that when the plant has bloomed, the greenhouse has extended its hours to make sure everyone who wants to can smell the aroma.

“When the corpse flower blooms we generally stay open extended hours, often through the night since it opens in early evening and reaches is peak stench around midnight,” Morse said. “We staff up to assist visitors who come to witness the event.”

The deadly smelling bloom occurs infrequently because it takes a long time to produce a leaf, Morse said.

“Corpse flowers grow from an underground stem called a corm,” Morse said. “Typically, the corm will put up a leaf that lasts from 10-16 months, collects energy from the sun and stores it in the corm. Each leaf goes dormant and the corm goes through a resting cycle, becoming larger with each successive leaf cycle.”

Once there is a leaf, a bloom needs a lot of energy and time to be produced, Morse said.

“When the corm finally reaches a large enough size to expend the energy required to put forth a bloom, it will put up a reproductive floral bud instead of the vegetative leaf bud,” Morse said. “It generally takes about four weeks to grow the massive flower, sometimes at rates exceeding three inches per day in vertical growth.”

Although there is no current research with the corpse flower at UConn, EEB has the flower to add to the teaching experience, Morse said.

“The unusual pollination mechanism, its enormous size and infamous stench make the corpse flower an excellent subject for discussing biodiversity, ecology and importance of protecting the plant kingdom,” Morse said.

Morse warns that if one wants to smell the flower, they have to be careful, but it’s worth it for the experience.

“The first time I took a really deep 'whiff' of the corpse flower was for a photo-op for a local TV news report and the chemicals that create the smell actually burned my nasal passages (because) they were so harsh,” Morse said. “Lesson learned.”


Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.philipson@uconn.edu.