Weird California
Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

Corpse Flower

Map Cal Poly Plant Shop
197 Via Carta, San Luis Obispo, California 93407

A Corpse Flower at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
A Corpse Flower at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Although still not common, not by a long shot, there are more and more Corpse Flowers growing and blooming in California. The Corpse Flower, or the Amorphophallus Titanum, the titan arum, is a very weird flowering plant. It is endemic to Sumatra, so these plants are a very long way from home. It is a carrion flower as well, meaning that when the flower opens up, it emits a horrid odor very similar to that of a rotting corpse. By doing so, it can attract bugs to act as a pollinator. Corpse plants have the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. What's inflorescence? It's a cluster of flowers on a branch. Basically there's one branch in a Corpse Flower with one flower on that branch. And it's the biggest of its type in the world. The flower it makes can reach over ten feet tall.

Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower

A Corpse Flower consists of a corm buried underground. A corm is a basically an underground plant stem. The Corpse Flower has the biggest, with one having been weighed at 339 lbs. The corm produces a single leaf, but before you think this is pretty unimpressive, that leaf actually turns into a small tree, with it being able to reach a height of 20 feet. The leaf branches in three directions at the top, with each of the three sections having a bunch of leaflets. The sections can create a plan that is up to 16 feet across. Each year the leaf dies, usually being replaced by a new one. It often takes about seven to ten years before the plant will, instead of producing a leaf, produce a giant flower. Blooms can come more frequent after the first, but still it is not unheard of for it to be another seven to ten years before the next one.

This is one leaf of the plant made during a non blooming year
This is one leaf of the plant made during a non blooming year
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower

When the plant produces a flower, instead of a leaf, it produces a spathe, which is a large, leaf like structure that eventually produces the flower. After a while, the spathe will open, generally in the afternoon or evening as it is unlikely to open in the daylight, revealing the flower. At this time the flower is ready for pollination and begins to produce the horrid rotting meat smell. The smell is mostly noticeable from late evening until the middle of the night, generally dissipating in the morning. After 12 to 24 hours, sometimes longer, as much as 48 hours, the flower begins to wilt, so the window isn't long. Yes at often years between blooms, it seems like a long wait for roughly 12 to 24, maybe 48, hours of blooming.

Regardless, it is pretty impressive when one does bloom, despite the short duration, and it is often met with large crowds trying to see the amazing flower.

Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower

At this point there are several in gardens and green houses throughout California, mostly at universities and botanical gardens, although there is one high school on the list. Just a partial list includes:

Roseville might be the only high school to ever grow the corpse flower.

Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower

The pictures here are from Cal Poly's first and only bloom so far, Musty, in July of 2020. The plant was taken to bloom in only five years, and as a result of the shorter than normal duration, the flower, although still very impressive, was smaller than average. Cal Poly offered up viewings of it from the afternoon of July 10th, all day on July 11th,

Drilled hole to allow for pollination
Drilled hole to allow for pollination
Corpse Flower
Corpse Flower
Single leaf, non blooming
Single leaf, non blooming


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Outside References:

Last Edited: 2020-07-11


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