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Look, Darling, the Corpseflower is in Bloom!

Thursday, March 9, 2006

My friend Dave Brigner is Plant Assigner at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio. Whatta job for whatta guy. This job allows the endlessly creative Dave to indulge his taste in the wonderful and weird as he seeks out new additions to the conservatory's lovely collection. As his friend, I bask in the plant gifties he sends my way. One little brown paper bag contained four tubers; two of Amorphophallus (the thing that sends up a 10' high stinking spathe and makes the newspaper whenever it blooms) and two of Sauromatum venosum, commonly known as Corpseflower.
One of them bloomed while we were in Guatemala, and poor Maggie's first question to me was, "Did you know you have something coming up in the greenhouse that smells like something dead?"
I told her I left it as a special present for her, to remember me by.
The second one opened this morning. I walked into the greenhouse and reeled backward as if struck. I cannot describe the stench of this thing. It's got some elements of horse manure, some of rotting flesh, and a pungent putridity that gets in the back of your throat and stays in your olfactory memory for a long, long time. It is nasty on a stick.

Of course Chet adores it. It's a dog's kind of flower.
The stench is meant to attract pollinators like flies, who come expecting a carrion meal, and find instead this greasy spadix and rotting-flesh-colored spathe. Probing down, they are covered with pollen, and proceed to the next corpseflower. After the blossom withers, it'll send out roots and leaves, and I'll move it out into the shade garden, and hope for a bigger and more horrendous blossom next spring. Thanks, Dave!

Shock value is a perfectly good reason to grow a plant, isn't it?

On the other end of the spectrum are the houseplants that burst into bloom while we were away. I am swimming in orchids as the spring comes on. What better timing for them to bloom than in March, when everything outside is still sere and brown?
My first Phalaenopsis, refugee from a Lowe's (orchid abbatoir). May she bloom for decades.

One grown from a baby.
The clivia I got last summer, trumpeting its happiness (and smelling divine in the process)

Stromanthe sanguinea, in bloom.

Burana Beauty, the orange cattleya type, heavily fragrant, and Dendrobium phalaenopsis var album.

Such generous plants. Each gives what it has to give, whether it's sublime or revolting. I try to keep the balance toward sublime, but the odd voodoo lily keeps things interesting. And it's fun to think about who might enjoy having a corpseflower in their very own living room. It's making babies...


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