Spooky plant gives whiff of death

Through the month of October, I have had some fun relating everyday plants to Halloween. Well, today is Halloween, and I have saved the creepiest, smelliest plant for last. A corpse flower. That’s right, a corpse flower.

This is not your every day, everybody-has-one kind of flower. The corpse flower is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are less than 1,000 growing in the wild.

Originally from the rainforests of West Indonesia, the corpse flower is cultivated in botanical gardens and private collections. Very few of these complicated flowers bloom each year, and when they do, they will attract people from all over the world to get a glimpse and whiff of the plant before it fades.

The corpse flower or titan arum is a big plant; when found in nature, it can be 12 feet tall. When cultivated in a botanical garden, it averages eight feet in height.

The name comes from the plant’s smell when it blooms. The smell has been described as rotting flesh, and although quite offensive to humans, it attracts sweat bees and beetles looking for a place to lay eggs.

The plant begins with a corm or underground tubers. From this will grow a single spike with two rings of flowers and a large leafy ring meant to protect the flowers. As it gets ready to bloom, the two protective leaves will unfold, and the bloom will begin to appear over the following two to three days.

This all sounds quite simple, but it can take years for a bloom to appear. The underground tuber, or corm, collects and stores energy. The plant will bloom when it has accumulated enough energy, but there is no set schedule. The corpse flower may take more than a decade to bloom in the wild. It requires both warm days and nights and very high humidity.

When grown in botanical gardens, the plant may bloom as often as every two years. This explains why tourists travel long distances to experience (see and smell) this flower. Remember, it is only open for 36 hours. Botanical gardens live stream this blooming for those not able to visit. Because the plant is so rare, there might be as few as five blooming plants in the world each year.

When the plant is finished blooming, part of it withers away, and part produces golden-colored berry-type fruits. As they age, the fruits will turn orange and then dark red before the plant goes dormant.

Want one more spooky plant? The ghost plant (monotropa uniflora) is a succulent that does not need light to grow and will survive in the darkest places. This plant has no chlorophyll, so it is all white in appearance. It also steals nutrients from nearby plants through its root system. Because it cannot use photosynthesis for food, this plant depends on decaying matter in the soil. The ghost plant or Indian pipe is found in dark, damp, cool areas, often near beech trees.

That’s it. I’ve had enough of spooky plants for the season, but that’s the great thing about nature. Stinky smelly plants have their purpose in attracting and feeding insects. White ghost blooms serve as pollinators in the darkest areas. Yes, nature can be spooky but always amazing.