Patient observers of the corpse flower at the Toronto Zoo can now reap the rewards: Its long-awaited bloom peaked overnight, along with its legendarily foul odour.
Jesse Raycroft, the horticulture supervisor at the Toronto Zoo, warns that its scent is not for the faint of heart: “Garbage dump, sweaty gym clothes, imagine a worst-case scenario, and that’s what it smells like.”
Amorphophallus titanum is this plant’s official name, but it earned its moniker from the unique odour that is produced when it blooms and many have compared its smell to rotting flesh. The flower’s stench attracts pollinators, such as carrion beetles and flesh flies, and the days-long blooming period is significantly taxing on the plant.
"It uses up a lot of stored-up energy in the corm to make it flower and bloom," Arthur Yeas, a greenhouse technician at McMaster, told The Weather Network before the bloom. "This can cause the flower to fade quickly. Also, if it is pollinated, the flower will fade because the plant has set out to do what it started to do: Get pollinated and set seed."
This flower can reach up to three metres in height and is native to the Indonesian tropical rainforest of Sumatra. Corpse flowers are rare in Canada and only a few have been able to bloom in controlled environments that are monitored by specialists.
"They're not easy plants to grow and require an experienced grower to maintain the plants in good condition," Yeas says. "Ideally, the temperature should not be less than 28°C during the day, and high humidity. This requires a large greenhouse and a controlled atmosphere. It can be expensive to maintain these conditions."
Raycroft says that corpse flowers are rare because it takes seven to ten years for one to bloom and they are becoming less common in their natural habitats.
“They are considered to be a vulnerable species [due to] deforestation, so it is very important for us to have blooms like this and raise awareness.”
When asked how experts know when the flower will bloom, Raycroft explained that the flower’s height is monitored each day. When it is about to bloom, its growth steadies at an increase of roughly one inch per day. Other indicators that Raycroft looks for include the bracts (outside leaves) falling off and the spathe (outside modified leaf) pulling away from the centre of the plant.
Tickets to visit the corpse flower are available on their website.