We had a bit of excitement in Kansas at the end of June. Kansas State University’s greenhouse has been nurturing a corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) for more than a decade, and it finally bloomed! For those of us who grow a lot of annual and perennial flowers, herbs, and other garden fare, it might be a little amazing to consider that some plants don’t reproduce sexually each year, or even each decade. In the case of K-State’s specimen, it took about 15 years to produce this flower — although plants roughly a third of that age have been reported to bloom. The plant, which is native to Indonesia, produces a very large flower head and is often more than 7 feet tall. It generates both the stench of rotting flesh and the heat to help disseminate that scent. The smell attracts such pollinators as carrion beetles and flies.
The remarkable botanical hoopla surrounding our Kansas corpse flower reminds me of many hours spent weeding, pruning, and generally looking after the teaching greenhouses at the University of Chicago when I was a student there. I can still recall the incredible array of exotic species, including one of the large agave species often called “the century plant” (Agave americana). When that long-nurtured succulent decided to bloom, it was exciting and spectacular at the same time. The inflorescence was more than 10 feet tall!
The botanical world is full of seeming anomalies or exceptions to the rule. If you have any favorite flowers that work you up to hoopla level, I’d love to hear about them. Please send me an email at HWill@HeirloomGardener.com and we may compile a few letters into a short piece for a future issue of the magazine.
See you in winter,