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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri Botanical Garden’s Stinky Corpse Flower Fails To Bloom

A corpse flower at the Missouri Botanical Garden in July 2019.
Tom Incrocci | Missouri Botanical Garden

A corpse flower on display at the Missouri Botanical Garden likely will not perform one of its stunning and foul-smelling blooms.

The corpse flower, one of the largest flowers in the world, typically blooms within a couple of weeks after it reveals its spadix, the spike in the middle of the plant. The plant, named Octavia, has not bloomed for more than 25 days since the spike’s emergence.

It’s also shown signs that it’s decomposing, said Emily Colletti, a horticulturist who has witnessed nine corpse flower blooms at the garden. Colletti observed that the plant had mold growing on it and was giving off an odor that is different than the typical garbage smell. 

“It’s kind of a musky type of smell as opposed to a trashy kind of smell,” Colletti said.

It takes about a decade for the rare species from Indonesia to bloom for the first time. Scientists don’t know what triggers a corpse flower to bloom.

A corpse flower at the Chicago Botanic Garden, named Spike, did not bloom in 2015, said Patrick Herendeen, the Chicago garden’s senior director of systematics and evolutionary biology. 

“We were at a bit of loss as to why,” Herendeen said. “We settled on the idea that it didn’t have enough water. But I don’t know if that’s correct. The Missouri Botanical Garden has great experience getting them to flower, and yet this bloom didn’t happen.” 

Octavia is one of a dozen corpse flowers at the Missouri garden. Its first bloom took place two years ago. It will likely try to bloom again in a couple of years, but every corpse flower bloom has been different, Colletti said. 

“[The flower] kind of teaches us to be patient and to expect the unexpected because they’re so unique and very unpredictable,” she said. 

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