Smelly ‘Corpse Flower’ Has Bloomed at UMass Amherst Natural History Collections

*** MEDIA ADVISORY ***

DATE:      Today, Wed., July 3
TIME:       Extended open hours, 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
WHAT:      Public viewing, corpse flower bloom
WHERE:   Morrill Hall South Greenhouse, 627 North Pleasant Street, Amherst
                 Metered parking on nearby Thatcher Way and next to Franklin Dining;
                 Also free in Lots 62 and 63 after 5 p.m.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Natural History Collection is the latest in the nation today to welcome a blooming Amorphophallus titanum, or 6-foot tall corpse flower, one of the world’s biggest flowering structures. Shortly before the corpse flower opens, it emits the stink of rotting flesh in order to attract pollinators such as carrion beetles and blow flies in its native Sumatran rainforest.

Botanist and assistant biology professor Madelaine Bartlett, whose research interests include plant development and evolution, with greenhouse manager Chris Phillips, say the campus had its last blooming corpse flower about four years ago. Bartlett says, “These plants are sophisticated chemical factories; they have an amazing ability to produce chemicals to attract pollinators. It’s biological mimicry of a fascinating kind.”

She adds that the corpse flower is just one of the many examples of biomimicry, unusual pollination methods and botanical oddities found in UMass Amherst’s “very special teaching and research collection” that is used regularly to teach students about some of the more unusual plants found around the world.

Phillips notes that once a flower blooms, its “peak stinkiness” lasts about 24 to 48 hours depending on environmental conditions. Although the name ‘corpse flower’ is descriptive, it’s misleading. Instead of being a single flower, A. titanum actually bears hundreds of individual flowers; about 400 to 500 male and female on one structure, which grows about three inches per night.

Phillips says the Morrill Greenhouse will extend its public open hours, normally 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., into the evening so that the public can come in and see it, along with other special botanicals in the collection.

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