Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wee Stinky, Flower of Death

The big stinky flower of death bloomed at Cornell!

This "little" guy has a few names.  The Titan Arum, for us English speakers.  Amorphophallus titanum, for the science geeks.  And Wee Stinky (no, seriously), named for a small glen on Cornell's campus, for us locals.

The mad scientists up at Cornell grew this specimen from a seed produced by a plant in Wisconsin in 2002. Some people get dogs, which live about a decade...  other people grow rare Sumatran rainforest plants, which take a decade to bloom then flower for 48 hours.  Different strokes, different folks, etc.

Being Upstate NY (where not much of note ever happens), pretty much the entire town (ok fine one-third of the town) turned out to see Wee Stinky's Big Moment.  It was like Wegman's on Saturday morning, just as surreal and slightly more smelly.

Wee Stinky had the potential to be big, as some Titan Arum top 12 feet tall with a storage tuber weighing 200 lbs.  We visited Wee Stinky on its second day in existence, and I'd say it was about 7 feet tall.  I doubt Wee Stinky's tuber was 200 lbs, as Wee Stinky was living in a large plastic pot (like the kind you'd find at a big-box hardware store).

Wee Stinky's insides heat up to nearly 100F (98.6F, actually, same as our insides) in order to disperse the stank of death, hence the nickname "Corpse Flower."  By the time we met Wee Stinky, the stank of death wasn't so strong, more like a faint odor of fish rotting in the sun.  Indonesia's reputation for producing smelly things (durian, anyone?) disappoints again.

looking down wee stinky's insides--where the smell was the strongest
If Wee Stinky were in the Sumatran rain forest, its native environment, the stink would attract pollinating carrion flies.  Apparently Ithacans have more similarities to carrion flies than you'd think, because Wee Stinky attracted 10,000 humans during the two days it was in bloom.

That's right--Wee Stinky takes years to grow from seed, only to produce a bloom that lasts 48 hours, not to bloom again for decades.  I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere, something about rotting fish and Sumatran rainforests, the ephemerality of time and gawking at all of nature's freak shows.  Something like that.

Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Science took an amazing time-lapse video of Wee Stinky's moment of glory.  I can't get their direct link to work, so here's the video hosted at YouTube, but you should also go to the Cornell Titum Arum blog to show them some love.  One hundred percent of the credit for this goes to the awesome plant masters hiding in the greenhouses up the hill (what are they growing under those lights?).

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