CLEVELAND -- "Corpse flower" blooms in Cleveland, the first time it's ever bloomed in Ohio.
It’s the "Christmas Story" leg lamp turned upside down. Only it’s alive, its shade is lime green and its footless, purple leg is composed of putrefying flesh.
It’s the rare titan arum, and it isn’t nicknamed the “Corpse Flower” for nothing. It smells like sun-baked road kill when it blooms.
But for the folks at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s RainForest, the stink couldn’t arrive soon enough.
On Monday morning, after three weeks of anticipation, the flower bloomed for the first time in its 13-year existence and began stinking up the RainForest.
It’s the only time a titan arum has bloomed in Ohio, and according to zoo officials, the flower has bloomed in fewer than two dozen institutions in the country.
“Most people have been saying that it smells like a dead animal that has been lying out in the sun for a few days,” said Kevin Mackin, a horticulturist at the zoo.
Mackin, who is without an olfactory and can’t smell, had to take everyone else’s word for it. He wasn’t subjected to the stench, so he wasn’t forced to plug his nose like 6-year-old Jessica Hearn did as she leaned in for a close look at the plant, which is nearly 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
“Stinky,” she said.
What A Smell
Gym socks. Rotting flesh. Trash.
Anthony Dellano, 16, a worker in the Rainforest, held a mask to his face while he stood watch near the plant.
“It’s OK,” he said of the smell. “It has its times.”
To reduce the smell, doors near the plant had been opened, and a fan blew out some of the stink.
“It’s pretty, but it stinks,” said 12-year-old Jet’Lania Simpson of East Cleveland.
Jordan Chalfant, 17, a seasonal member of the zoo’s horticulturist staff, came in on her day off to see and smell the flower but was disappointed that the smell wasn’t more offensive.
“I was expecting to be blasted by this huge, nasty smell, but I don’t really smell it that much,” she said. “It’s still pretty cool.”
That stink, which attracted and repulsed many visitors to the Rainforest, serves an important purpose for the flower, which has been found only in Sumatra and Indonesia.
Stink With A Purpose
The flower’s hideous cologne, along with its size and color, all work to serve the evolutionary purpose of attracting carrion-eating beetles and flies, which work to pollinate the plant, Mackin said.
A hint that the flower was about to bloom came Sunday when it began attracting flies.
“It cannot physically pollinate itself, so it obviously adapted the aroma to attract something that would come and pollinate the plant,” Mackin said.
While the smell has its purpose, Mackin said the blooming cycle of the plant is somewhat of a mystery.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to why it blooms so infrequently,” Mackin said, but he said the next bloom will likely come a little quicker. “It could be three, five, eight years.”
Every year, a solitary and stink-free 12-foot-high leaf shoots up from the plant and lasts for about eight months. Three weeks ago, when the plant started to grow in its typical fashion, Mackin said they didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary.
“We figured it was going to be the leaf,” he said, “but then it just got fatter and fatter, and we knew it was the flower.”
They weren’t sure which day the flower would arrive but knew its smelly existence would be short. It’s in its prime and stinks for 24 hours, Mackin said, and “after 48 hours, it’s basically done.”
During its brief stay at the zoo, the smell of the titan arum’s flower wasn’t wholly unappealing to all visitors.
“It smells like turkey to me,” said 6-year-old Micah Hart.
Reach Repository writer Joseph Gartrell at (330) 580-8562 or email@example.com.
Canton (Ohio) Repository