WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Corpse Flower Blooms at WIU

Macomb, IL – A smell like that of a corpse now engulfs the Western Illinois University Botany Greenhouse.

The odor comes from an exotic flower called the Titan Arum, nicknamed the Corpse Flower.

The flower in WIU's greenhouse has grown at a steady pace since the fall. Greenhouse gardener Jeff Hillyer says it will eventually reach 12 feet. He says Titan Arums can grow as tall as 20 feet in the wild.

"They kind of just sit there and you have a small little leaf bud or flower bud and it doesn't look like much, then all of sudden it starts growing," says Hillyer. "Once it got to around 20 inches tall it really started to grow a lot."

He says the flowers are native to the equatorial rain forests of Indonesia so they like heat and humidity. Hillyer says the campus was without heat for a few days last week so he had to come in overnight to turn on portable heaters to keep the greenhouse warm.

WIU received four Titan Arum seeds from the University of Wisconsin in 2002. Hillyer says it's a fairly rare plant and there are not many in cultivation that have bloomed.

Hillyer says it's difficult to get a read on when one might bloom. Of the other three, one is in a vegetative state, which means it has a leaf on it. The other two are dormant.

"I hope the other two will bloom this year also when they break dormancy," says Hillyer. "But you never know until the thing gets to six or eight inches tall or maybe even a foot tall because you can't really tell the difference between a flower bud and a leaf bud."

The university says the bloom is composed of thousands of flowers and its nickname comes from the blooms' odor that smells like rotting meat. In its native environment, the Titan Arum is pollinated by carrion beetles and flesh flies, which are attracted to the horrendous odor.