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Endangered plant blooms at Ohio State greenhouse for 3rd time

The Titan Arum plant named "Woody" blooms May 14 at OSU's Biological Sciences greenhouse.

Heather Reeves / For The Lantern

An endangered plant bloomed Tuesday in Ohio State’s Biological Sciences greenhouse for the third time since 2011.

The particular specimen of Titan Arum that bloomed Tuesday, named “Woody,” bloomed once before in 2011.

Titan Arum is the largest unbranched inflorescence, a floral structure composed of many smaller individual flowers, in the world. The bloom of a Titan Arum is typically between 6 and 8 feet tall. The plant gives off “a foul odor of rotting flesh, thus the name corpse flower,” according to the greenhouse website.

The plants are uncommon in cultivation and blooms are even more rare, though it can bloom again as quickly as every two to five years if the conditions are right. The plant also produces the largest leaf in the world, reaching 15 to 20 inches high.

Woody’s height as of Tuesday morning was 72.5 inches. Woody has grown more than 26 inches since May 6, according to the greenhouse website.

The flower of Titan Arum “open(s) like a big skirt about four feet across,” said Joan Leonard, the program manager of the greenhouse. The blooming only lasts about 24 to 48 hours.

“Typically, it starts to open in the late afternoon to early evening,” Leonard said. “It will take it about maybe five to six hours to fully open all the way … It will stay fully open until the midday of next day and then starts to close up.”

The Titan Arum is famous for its smell and its warmth when it blooms, both of which are an effort to attract pollinators like carrion beetles and flies.

Leonard said the stench carries out of the room the flower is in.

“You can smell it in the hallway of the building,” Leonard said. “The insects don’t know it’s a flower, they think it’s a dead animal. But when they smell it, they get attracted. Because anything that’s rotting, it produces the heat as well.”

Leonard planted four specimen of Titan Arum in 2001. The seeds were given to OSU by the University of Wisconsin.

Woody’s first blooming happened 10 years later, in April 2011, and attracted more than 5,000 visitors.

The second plant that bloomed was named “Jesse,” after Jesse Owens. Its flower emerged May 5, 2012, and drew about 1,000 visitors.

The other two specimens are unnamed. One is heading into its dormancy stage, which happens every 12 to 18 months and lasts for three to six months, and the other plant’s bud is beginning to emerge, meaning it’s coming out of its dormancy stage, Leonard said.

Because Woody is in bloom, the greenhouse, located at 318 W. 12th Ave., has special visiting hours until 11 p.m. Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

Wesley West, a third-year in philosophy, is a student assistant in the greenhouse. He said in an email it has been interesting to see how the plant has grown in such a short amount of time.

Even though OSU is on summer vacation, Leonard said the blooming still presents an opportunity for many visitors to come and visit.

Alyssa Price, a recent OSU graduate, said she is considering visiting the bloom.

“I think it’s very cool that Ohio State has invested in some of these more rare plants and in having these kinds of displays that really cater to public interests with really cool blooms,” Price said.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 15, 2013

An earlier version of this story stated that Wesley West is a third-year in molecular genetics and neuroscience. In fact, he is a third-year in philosophy. 

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