Rare corpse flower blooms

Alpena native Jan Szyren has been working in the greenhouse at Michigan State University for 20 years, and has only seen the rare corpse flower bloom twice since it was brought to the university. Szyren is now the greenhouse manager and horticulturilist, and was estatic to see the rancid smelling flower bloom again just days ago in the greenhouse. The formal name for the around 5 foot tall flower is Amorphophallus titanum, but it has been nicknamed the “corpse flower” because it smells like a rotting corpse.

“I have been caring for the plant since 2010, which was the last time it bloomed,” Szyren said. “We really don’t know when it will flower. The flower sent up a new chute in mid May, and I originally assumed it was a leaf. I took a chance and peeked into it early and saw the floral part. A professor leaped on the opportunity to share this rare event with the public.”

Since then, the news of the blooming corpse flower spread through social media, quickly becoming viral around Michigan, according to Szyren.

“It has gone national and viral locally,” Szyren said. “There were thousands of people who stood out in the rain and the sun to see the flower in bloom. Some people waited over three hours to see the plant, and I’d say over 5,000 people came to see it in bloom. Social media really helped get the word out.”

The flower is closed up now, and was only open for around 24 hours.

“We waited four years for a 24-hour flower,” Szyren said. “I’ve been told that flowering in a period of four years is pretty good.”

The last time the flower bloomed before 2010 was 1995, which adds to the mystery and allure of the flower when it is in bloom.

“It is quite uncommon in cultivation,” Szyren said. “There are two in Florida getting ready to flower, and we sent some of the pollen to California in hopes they will send us babies.”

The flower is native to Western Sumatra and Indonesia, but Szyren said it is rare to find one in the wild.

“The smell is that of road kill, like a dead deer on the side of the road or worse,” Szyren said. “It helps to attract the beetles in its native habitat that polinate the plants. We have been self polinating, and the flower has not collapsed yet.”

The flower only produces one leaf at a time that can grow to be around nine feet tall and ten feet wide. The leaf of the flower at MSU was around two and a half feet across, and the flower is watered and fertilized three times per day.

“It takes daily care and patience,” Szyren said. “Plants thrive on attention. When not flowering or in leaf, it goes dorment. It’s a pot of soil and nothing else. There is a danger of watering it too much and it rotting, or it being too dry to food production.”

When the flower was expected to open, the university set up a time lapse video to capture every moment of this rare event, and as a result of the video, it was discovered that the central portion of the plant glows in the dark.

“We want to see if the results can be duplicated, and have informed others who have the flower about it,” Szyren said. “The plant is such an oddity and attracts peoples attention. We had 98 year-old women to babies coming to see it in bloom.”

The time lapse video made by the university can be viewed by visiting http://bit.ly/1iyL4Wa.

“It’s been glorious to have all this attention on the flower,” Szyren said. “My favorite part of my job is sharing plants with people, and this was extremely exciting. It’s just incredible.”

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.