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Friday, March 22 , 2019, 2:07 pm | A Few Clouds 60º


Stop and Smell the ... ‘Corpse Flower’? Stinky Plant Ready to Bloom at UCSB

The rare Titan Arum plant, available for public viewing in the greenhouse, tricks pollinators by releasing an odor of decaying flesh

Tucked in a warm greenhouse on the UC Santa Barbara campus, one of the world’s stinkiest plants is about to have a heyday.

The corpse flower, or Titan Arum, is a rare plant hailing from rainforests on the island of Sumatra that can reach up to 10 feet in height and releases a fetid smell — like that of decaying flesh — to attract pollinators such as flesh flies and carrion beetles.

UCSB’s corpse flower is more than 4 feet tall and has called the university home for more than a half-decade, but the biologists who work with the plant are extra excitable these days.

That’s because things are about to get really stinky.

In the next day or so, the plant will unfurl to “trick” pollinators into visiting it, according to Danica Taber, UCSB’s biology greenhouse manager.

Around the base of the plant is a sort of fringy ruffle — Taber compared it to a “villain’s collar” — that will open up over the next day or so.

Taber said the ruffle will actually turn bright purplish-red to imitate the appearance of raw meat.

As of Tuesday morning, the very edges of the ruffle were starting to turn purple.

As if that weren’t creepy enough, the tall stalk at the center of the plant will also heat up to around 98 degrees — eerily mimicking human body temperature — in order for the scent to carry farther.

“It fools even more of the hungry bugs, who instead end up pollinating the plant,” Taber said.

The plant, dubbed Chanel, was already garnering quite an audience Tuesday morning as curious students and staff dropped in to take a look.

Many of the visitors chatted with Taber and mentioned the corpse flower in the U.S. Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C., that was blooming last week.

More than one person referenced Audrey II, the cannibalistic plant star of the musical Little Shop of Horrors while checking out the more demure Chanel.

The plant is threatened in the wild, but has a good population in gardens and research facilities around the world, Taber said. Every year, she added, the plant conjures up enough energy to produce a single leaf. After five or so years, the plant develops an inflorescence — a fancy way of saying a plant stem with many flowers on it.

Those flowers sit at the base of the tall part of the plant, and one row of the flowers are female and the second row are male.

The flower will open up for two days; the female flowers will open up first, with the male following to prevent cross-pollination, Taber said.

Now that it’s mature, the plant could potentially bloom in its stinky glory every two to four years, “provided it’s happy” and the environment is right, Taber said.

When asked if the corpse flower is the most unusual inhabitant of the greenhouse, Taber responded that “it’s definitely weird.”

Another favorite of Taber’s just happens to be sitting on a stand right next to the corpse flower and hails from the other side of the globe, native to the Namibian Desert.

The Welwitschia plant sits next to the corpse flower soaking up the sun in the greenhouse, and has been termed by many a “living fossil” since it can live more than 1,000 years and hasn’t changed biologically since the Jurassic period.

The greenhouse is open to the public, and there is no admission to see the corpse flower. Parking information and more details about Chanel’s progress can be found at the plant’s Facebook page by clicking here.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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