‘Corpse Flower’ Blooms On Cornell Campus

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Cornell has two ‘corpse flowers’. The one that bloomed Sunday afternoon is the largest at over 7 feet high. It looks like an overgrown daylily. Surrounding the center  is a ruffled burgundy leaf. Named ‘Titan arum’, it’s native to Indonesia but is threatened by habitat loss.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Media

One of Cornell’s ‘Titan arum’ in bloom. September 16, 2019. (Celia Clarke/Public Media)

The last time this aromatic flower bloomed was 2017. 

It gets its common name from its unique pollination strategy.

When the plant blooms, it smells like rotting animal flesh, which is very attractive to  insects. They do not find what they expect, but carry away pollen.

This time it was at its most odiferous a few hours after it bloomed on Sunday afternoon. Late Monday morning a few flies are still buzzing around it but the odor isn’t as pungent. Craig Cramer is with Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

“During the course of the bloom you’ll get different odors,” Cramer said. “It doesn’t always smell the same way. But it will go through different phases where it smells like different chemicals.”

Smelly sneakers and rotten cabbage are some of the chemicals researchers have isolated from previous blooms.

A steady stream of visitors show up around noon. Each climbs a small step ladder to look down into the plant. The actual flowers are inside, at the bottom. 

Cramer says the flower will only be opened for two or three days. Then it dies back and goes dormant. 

Until it’s ready to bloom again, in about two years.