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Tropical "Corpse Flower' Flowering at EIU

Jun-18-2012

The H.F. Thut Greenhouse, located on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, will soon smell like rotting meat – again.

Manager Steven Malehorn eagerly awaits the third flowering of the university's titan arum, or corpse flower, affectionately named the Velvet Queen.  And, again, he’s issuing an invitation to residents of east-central Illinois -- and anywhere else, for that matter -- to come join him.

Malehorn estimates that the plant will flower sometime between June 23 and 25.

"However, because of its unpredictable nature, the exact date can't be known in advance," he said. "But when it blooms, it will happen fast -- within hours -- and only last one night!"

The plant flowered twice before -- once in June 2008 and again in June 2010. Based on those events, Malehorn believes the spathe (the sheath enclosing the flower) will begin to open in the early afternoon and will be fully open by about 6 p.m.

"The roadkill aroma will begin to develop shortly thereafter and will be strongest from about 8 p.m. until midnight. The bloom will be open and at its peak from about 6 p.m. until about 5 a.m. the next morning, and the spathe will then slowly close through the morning. The aroma will gradually fade away that morning. Then the inflorescence will slowly collapse over the next few days.

"That being said," he added, "it could surprise all of us and start blooming late in the evening and we won't know until the following morning. Therefore, no promises on the blooming schedule."

In order to let others share in the waiting, Malehorn is keeping the greenhouse open from 4 to 8 p.m. daily. Hours will be extended to midnight on the day the bloom opens, and the greenhouse will open again at 9 a.m. the following morning.

In addition, the Velvet Queen is positioned close to the south window so visitors can have an excellent view of it from the sidewalk outside at any time.

Malehorn recalled that the greenhouse received 3,000 visitors during the 2008 flowering and about 1,000 in-person visitors in 2010.  Additionally, the second flowering received about 15,000 views via live video streaming on the internet.

A page has been created on the EIU Department of Biological Sciences' website to provide daily updates and images of the plant as the flower develops:  http://castle.eiu.edu/egarden/news/titan_arum_2012.php.  A map to the greenhouse, located just north of Eastern's Life Sciences Building, is available on the page, as well, and Malehorn has provided a live broadcast at this link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/corpse-flower-bloom.

He is also "tweeting the event" at http://twitter.com/ThutGreenhouse, and will tweet updates to followers and inform them as soon as he becomes aware that the flower is opening.

The corpse flower, discovered in 1878, grows wild only in the tropical forests of Sumatra. It first flowered in cultivation in London in 1889; since then, more than 100 cultivated flowers have blossomed.

EIU obtained its seed in 2001, and Malehorn has tended to the plant since it was planted. Its "grandparent" seeds were collected in 1993 from the only titan arum found in fruit during a BBC expedition filming "The Private Lives of Plants." The seeds were distributed to U.S. and British conservatories and greenhouses for cultivation.

Noting that the Velvet Queen “seems to have the personality to bloom every other year,” Malehorn said that’s not true of every titan arum.

“There’s a lot of variability out there,” he said.  “Some go 10 to 15 years and never bloom.”

For more information, please contact Malehorn at shmalehorn@eiu.edu, 217-581-3126 (Department of Biological Sciences' main office, Monday through Friday), or 217-581-2513 (greenhouse).