Rare Flower In Bloom At UNC Charlotte

Jul 18, 2015

UNC Charlotte expects thousands of people to visit a rare flower blooming this weekend at its Botanical Garden. The Amorphophallus titanium, or corpse flower, is native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Most plants bloom only once or twice, and it takes at least 7 years for them to produce a flower. When a plant does bloom, it produces one of the largest flowers in the world. Titans’ deep purple blooms can grow to over 9 feet. They’re also known for the strong smell they produce, which is similar to rotting flesh. Appropriately, UNC Charlotte has nicknamed theirs “Odie.”  It’s about 5' 4" tall and 11 years old.

The plant towers over 8-year-old Nelah Bailor. She says it feels kind of strange.

She and her family watched the bloom open Friday afternoon on a webcam the university set up. Then they came over to see Odie in person. At that point, the corpse plant was not living up to its name.

"It’s [the smell] not as bad as I thought it would be," Bailor said.

Botanists at UNC Charlotte say the plant’s stench was at its worst overnight Friday. The flower will start to wilt on Sunday.

That leaves a narrow window to try to pollinate the flower. In the Sumatran rainforest, the  strong smell attracts beetles and other pollinators. Here, greenhouse manager John Denti will carefully swab pollen onto dozens of small flowers at the base of the giant bloom.

"We have to do that within those 12 hours when they are receptive, but I think I have figured out how I can get them all," he says.

The pollen, as luck would have it, is from another corpse flower that bloomed earlier this week at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont. If the process is successful, Odie could produce hundreds of seeds.

The Gardens’ Interim Director Paula Gross says more than 4,000 people came to see their first corpse flower, Bella, in both 2007 and 2010. She says having rockstar plants like Bella and Odie puts a spotlight on their mission to study plants and educate people about them.

"And it gives us a chance to say, look what else is here," Gross says. "And so I think really that’s the mission that a plant like this has. In a way this plant’s a posterchild for biodiversity on the planet and for the power of botanical gardens to enrich your life."

Even if Odie doesn’t produce any viable seeds, there is another Amorphophallus titanum tucked away in the corner of the greenhouse that may bloom in a few years. But Gross says even with more chances to see these rare flowers, she doesn’t think people will lose interest.

"A flower bigger than you... that smells like a rotting corpse? I mean, haha, you can’t buy that at Walmart."

Click here to view UNC Charlotte's live webcam of Odie.