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Campus flower compared to ‘roadkill on a hot summer day’

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor

Well, it’s no daisy.

The endangered Amorphophallus titanum plant, more commonly known as Titan Arum, bloomed in the Biological Sciences Greenhouse on Friday evening. Nicknamed the Corpse Flower, the bloom was accompanied by its signature rotting smell, and attracted about 1,000 visitors between Friday and Saturday evening.

Joan Leonard, Biological Sciences Greenhouse coordinator, likened the smell to “roadkill on a hot summer day.”

The smell is a mechanism the plant employs to lure in pollinators. Carrion beetles, sweat bees and flies are all typical pollinators, attracted to the rotten stench.

“(The insects) think they’re coming in for a meal when they pick up the odor, when actually they’re accidentally pollinating,” Leonard said.

Since the plant is not in its natural habitat, it must be pollinated by hand.

Leonard named this specific corpse flower “Jesse,” after Ohio State legend Jesse Owens. This is the second Titan Arum plant to bloom at OSU in a little more than a year. Titan Arum “Woody” bloomed in April 2011, and attracted more than 5,200 visitors.

“It’s exciting because it’s supposed to happen pretty rarely,” said greenhouse superintendent Emily Yoders-Horn.

Less than 150 Titan Arums have bloomed in captivity. OSU is one of the 19 academic institutions in the United States that have successfully grown and bloomed a Titan Arum. The plant produces one of the largest flower blooms in the world, which typically lasts 24 to 48 hours. The bloom resembles a calla lily, and takes four to five hours to open completely.

In 2001, Leonard received Titan Arum seeds from a colleague at the University of Wisconsin. After planting them immediately upon arrival, the seeds germinated in March 2002, and have been growing ever since. The plant has served as a teaching tool to students in the biological sciences.

“We have (the Titan Arum) as part of our teaching collection,” Leonard said. “We use it not only to talk about conservation efforts and rare and endangered species, but also to represent the dynamic diversity of plant life.”

Jordan Jenkins, a fourth-year in biology and forestry, fisheries and wildlife, works in the Biological Sciences Greenhouse and has re-potted “Jesse” and taken its measurements as it has matured. Jenkins said the most growth occurred in the last five to six weeks.

“I’d go home and come back the next day and it’s so much bigger,” Jenkins said. “It’s pretty exciting to see it from the very beginning all the way to what it is now, and how fast it’s actually grown.”

Jenkins believes the rare opportunity to come across such an unusual flower is what has drawn visitors.

“It’s a smelly flower, so might as well go see it,” Jenkins said.

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