Lutherans in Minnesota

A corpse blooms on All Saints Day

A long line waits to view “Perry,”  Gustavus Adolphus College’s corpse flower, on November 1. This corpse flower has been blooming about once every three years. During its blooming cycle, the plant emits a strong odor, similar to the smell of rotting flesh. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

A long line waits to view “Perry,” Gustavus Adolphus College’s corpse flower, on November 1. This corpse flower has been blooming about once every three years. During its blooming cycle, the plant emits a strong odor, similar to the smell of rotting flesh. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

In a highly anticipated atmosphere, Gustavus Adolphus College’s corpse flower, affectionately named “Perry,” opened on October 31. Long lines of visitors stopped by the college’s Alfred Nobel Hall of Science to glimpse — and smell — the bloom on October 31 and November 1.

The corpse flower, known to botanists as Amorphophallus titanum, is a rare flowering plant that is only found naturally in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. With the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, the corpse flower gets its name from the repulsive scent it emits during the hours after it blooms.

Perry came to Gustavus Adolphus when Professor of Chemistry Brian O’Brien received 20 seeds from San Francisco physician James Symon in 1993.

“The level of interest is very high,” explained O’Brien. “[Students] are ecstatic that it’s blooming while they are here.” College representatives estimated that almost 2,000 people will have viewed the flower this year, despite the fact that it bloomed earlier than anticipated.

O’Brien explained that the smell on the second day of viewing was only about ten percent as potent as it had been the day before. The heat generated in the blooming helps to vaporize the odor, he told Metro Lutheran.

While many plants use alluring petals to attract pollinators, the corpse flower uses its odor — the smell of rotting flesh — to attract flies and carrion beetles.

After years of careful cultivation, the plant finally bloomed for the first time in May 2007. When Perry produced an inflorescence, more than 7,000 people visited the rare plant, which was the first of its kind to bloom in the state of Minnesota. More than 5,000 people came to see the plant the last time it produced an inflorescence in July of 2010.

 

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