The carrion flower lives! It took less than four years for a seed-grown Amorphophallus gigas to bloom in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. In late winter 2019 a staff member discovered the flower stalk beginning to poke through the soil. Once this plant gets going it can grow many inches a day. Many of the species in the genus Amorphophallus are called carrion flowers because the flowering structure smells like rotting flesh. These complex malodorous scents attract flies and other insects, which then pollinate the plant.
Amorphophallus is the same genus as the notorious corpse flower, A. titanum. (We have one of those, too. More on that later.) Apart from its size and appearance, the blooming A. gigas smells bad. Really bad. Some say rotting flesh. Or maybe dirty socks. Even horse dung. Volunteer Frank Omilian planted the seed in 2015. In April 2019 the plant bloomed. Here’s Frank’s note on the A. gigas that bloomed recently:
April 4, 2019:
“News spread at the garden today that a carrion flower, Amorphophallus gigas, is getting ready to bloom. The plant was 49.5 inches tall from the soil to the tip today at 11:45 am. A. gigas is considered the second largest of the Amorphophallus species (roughly 200 of them). But the gigas flower is considerably smaller than the flower of the king of the genus: A. titanum, the corpse flower. Corpse flowers are maybe 3 feet wide and 6 or 8 feet tall on a short stalk (peduncle). A. gigas flowers are maybe 1 foot across and 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. But they are on a very long peduncle, maybe 4 to 8 feet tall. So the look is very different.
“An Amorphophallus gigas bloomed at the Fairchild Botanical Garden in Florida in 1999. Their website records should/could help us estimate when ours will bloom. The Fairchild chart starts with the plant at 49.5 inches tall above the soil line, exactly what ours was today, April 4th.
“Fairchild’s gigas got to an open flower in 12 days from the point we are at on April 4. We should keep in mind that Fairchild’s gigas was an older plant, probably with a larger tuber than ours, and in Florida growing conditions. The other interesting information here is that their flower was open for 6 days, unusually long for other Amorphs.” Check out the gigas-bloom time-lapse video below.
This photo shows the Amorphophallus titanum plant with its giant leaf stalk. the leaves are feeding the tuber in the pot to prepare it for bloom. We think that it will probably bloom in 2020. The tuber or corm can weigh up to 100+ pounds, and the flower structure can achieve a height of 6 or more feet. A titanum also smells like rotting flesh when it blooms.
Seed to Stink in Four Years
Frank continues: “We are growing two plants of A. gigas at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. This one I grew from a seed that I bought in November 2015. The actual day I planted the seed was 11/7/2015. The seed sprouted on 12/14/2015. It was repotted and moved to bigger pots several times. It last went dormant on 10/1/2018. I noticed the roots starting to grow again on 2/15/2019 and planted it that day into the 22-inch diameter pot it is in now. On that day the tuber was about 8 inches in diameter and 7 inches tall. It weighed about 12 pounds. With a tuber this small (by Amorphophallus standards) I can’t imagine our gigas being much more than 8 feet tall at best. But this is mostly a guess. I have no experience flowering these. A quick search of the internet showed no other mention of a gigas blooming at a botanical garden other than at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.”
April 16, 2019, 8 pm: Frank Omilian:
“These Amorphophallus plants that are pollinated by sweat flies and carrion beetles have a reputation of opening in the late afternoon or early evening, sometimes not until after midnight. What I saw today makes me think that the inflorescence may be opening even as I type this! What I saw was a plant that did not grow even an inch today, but is still at 95 inches. The spathe was noticeably unwrapping itself slightly as the day went on. Will it totally unwrap tonight? I don’t know for sure but I would put money on a tomorrow night opening if not tonight. The spadix was also starting to darken as the day went on today. Many photos of A. gigas show the spadix as a fairly dark purple color when the flower is open.
“Our own growth chart shows a remarkable parallel of events with the data from our plant with that of the 1999 Fairchild gigas blooming, especially if ours is indeed opening tonight.”
Did You Know? Many Amorphophallus flowering structures produce heat to spread the plant’s smell. A. gigas apparently does not. Take a look at this study from the University of Tokyo.
A. gigas in bloom on April 19, 2019. The spathe (part that wraps the central structure) pulls away completely from the spadix (pointed structure at the center of the flower).
April 17, 2019: Frank Omilian:
“As of 7 pm this evening the A. gigas inflorescence is officially open. The criteria for calling it open is that the spathe, which has been wrapped tightly around the spadix, is now completely free of the spadix along its upper edges and the malodorous smells have started. The spathe should continue to loosen and spread out more during the night and tomorrow. As for the odor, the consensus among the visitors in the first half hour is that the odor was clearly that of mothballs. It was not a steady odor, just occasional waves of smell and you had to work a little to get a good whiff.
“Between 7:30 and 8 pm the smell became more consistent. You didn’t have to go sniffing around for it and the nature of the smell changed. When the conservatory closed at 8 pm there was a debate going on as to whether the smell was now that of a sweaty bowling alley or just the smell of the rental shoes there!
“I can hardly wait for tomorrow!”