“Dead mouse” was the consensus on the odour being emitted from “Uncle Fester” at Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory this morning. The odour will only last a day or two, as the emission of the sulphur-based compounds by the cluster of many small flowers at the base of the yellowish spadix is a brief phenomenon.
This is the first time titan arum or corpse flower has flowered in a public garden in British Columbia, occurring 129 years after the first bloom in cultivation at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and 81 years after the first bloom in North American cultivation (New York Botanical Garden). Native to the rainforests of western Sumatra, Amorphophallus titanum is one of 200 or so species in the genus, all from the Old World.
The phytochemistry of the scent has grabbed the attention of some researchers; see Kite and Hetterscheid’s 2017 article, Phylogenetic trends in the evolution of inflorescence odours in Amorphophallus, or for a more approachable read, Amor-Phew-Phallus via Kew Blogs. I am morbidly tempted by their description of Amorphophallus bulbifer: “produces a gaseous sulphurous odour that is nauseating. Once sniffed, the smell will unfortunately stay with you for hours”. Maybe once in my lifetime I would consider experiencing that…though perhaps I should seek out some of the other species instead, whose scents include fried fish, cucumber, banana, anise, and cocoa.
This spectacular inflorescence has been the subject of many writings on the web, so instead of repeating, I’ll point you to some resources:
- Botany Photo of the Day entry, May 6, 2007
- Botany Photo of the Day entry, January 26, 2009 (with an excellent write-up by Jackie Chambers)
- titan arum facts, with an illustration of its life cycle, by Dr. Mo Fayyaz
- Kew’s Plants of the World Online: Amorphophallus titanum
You can also search on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter for hashtags such as #unclefester, #corpseflower, #bloedelcorpseflower, and #bloedel.