Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Those stinky corpse flowers not as rare as they used to be

by Lauren Osen | Take Two®

Emmer Ruano, left, and Luis Burcaea take a pictures with their cell phones of the Amorphophallus titanum or commonly known as the corpse flower at the University of California, Santa Barbara greenhouse on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 in Santa Barbara, Calif. The foul smelling plant is expected to bloom within the next couple of days. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) Chris Carlson/AP

Last week, royal watchers awaited the royal baby; this week, California botanists counted down the hours to the corpse flower bloom at UC Santa Barbara. 

The equatorial plant has long drawn big crowds to botanic gardens with its rare blooms and famed scent, a smell that's often compared to rotting flesh. 

When the first corpse flower, or Amorphophallus titanum, bloomed in captivity in London in 1889, police had to be called in to control the crowds of people who came to see it. 

Californians got their first whiff in 1999 at the Huntington Library, where Kathy Musial, curator of the library's gardens and living collections, has since had a hand in cultivating three more blooms. She refers to it as "the holy grail of horticulture," because it blooms only once every four to five years and requires precise care in order to get it to flower. 

RELATEDPeople are dying to see the 'corpse flower' bloom in Santa Barbara

When Musial cultivated her first bloom back in 1999, there wasn't much information about how to care for the plants. So she dreamed up a way for her colleague to artificially speed up the release of pollen.

"He took the pollen out, took it home to warm it up on his stove. I had the thought that if we got lucky. To fertilize the females when they were receptive. And it worked," said Musial. "He came back at 6 a.m., crawled down in there — it's not easy to pollinate this thing either — crawled down in there, pollinated it, and we just waited."

Musial and her colleague got 10 fertile fruits from what she refers to as "the surgery."  

Thanks to curious botanists like Musial, corpse flowers have become more common in captivity, as rainforest destruction makes them less common in their natural habitats. Musial even had a hand in helping to pollinate UC Santa Barbara's plant that flowered this week. 

Botanists there nicknamed the plant "Chanel." Musial says the running joke in her department is that soon you'll be able to pick up a corpse flower at Home Depot. But for Musial, her years in rearing corpse flowers have lessened some of that first-time magic. 

"The allure of the rare — whether it's a panda, or a sticky plant, or whatever it is — the allure of the rare to the public will always be there," she said. "Now, it's like, 'Oh, another one's blooming.' A little bit of the allure has worn off for us jaded botanical folks."

But that isn't the case for the public yet — more than 1,900 people have turned out for a look, and smell, of Chanel. 

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