by Connie Oswald Stofko
Remember Morty the corpse flower that bloomed last summer at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens? Well, it has siblings.
In July, the Botanical Gardens purchased three corms (bulbs) of the plant Amorphophallus titanum. The plant is commonly called a corpse flower because, when in bloom, it emits a smell like garbage or rotting flesh.
One of the corms, dubbed Morty, bloomed this summer.
The second corm has sent up a single leaf that, as of today, is already 11 feet 8 inches tall. (Kristin Lotz, gardener at the Botanical Gardens, measured it for me this afternoon.) It will reach a height of about 20 feet with a spread of 12 to 16 feet across, said Jeff Thompson, director of horticulture at the Botanical Gardens.
And here’s exciting news: the third corm has a two-inch sprout, which could turn out to be a leaf or a flower.
“I’m expecting it to be a leaf, but you never know,” Thompson said. It’s not yet on display. We’ll keep you posted on that plant.
The leaf that is on display now was budding this summer. A few weeks ago, the bud was a foot tall. Then in about a week, it shot up to seven feet tall.
I saw it last week when it was perhaps 10 feet tall, as you can see in the photo. It looks like a tree, but it’s a single leaf! Its size makes it impressive already, yet it should get even grander.
“It looks like a stick with ruffles,” was how it was described last week by Erin Grajek, associate vice president of Marketing & Visitor Experience at the Botanical Gardens, “but when it opens up it should be really cool.”
When I talked to Thompson today, he said it’s about one-quarter unfurled. There are three separate leaflets on the plant.
“Each one is about as big around as my arm,” Thompson said.
It should be fully opened in a week or two, he said. While you had to hurry to see Morty because the bloom lasted only a few days, once this leaf is open, it should remain like that for a month or two, he said.
The leaf will have an umbrella-like top. It started bumping up against the wall and had to be moved out a bit. To accommodate its full size, the plant will probably be moved under the main dome.
“People can’t believe it’s real,” Thompson said. “They think it’s out of this world. The size is astounding.
“It’s not just the flower that’s interesting about the plant, it’s the whole plant itself.”
Each Amorphophallus titanum goes through cycles over a period of years. The plant gets a leaf, then goes dormant, then gets a leaf and goes dormant again. At some point, instead of sending up a leaf, it sends up a flower. These plants bloom about every ten years.
So at what point might we expect this other plant to bloom? Since we don’t know when this corm bloomed before, we don’t know where in its life cycle it is.
“We don’t know if this is its first leaf or its fifth leaf,” Grajek said. “It could be next year or in ten years. We have no idea.”
In the meantime, we need a name for this other specimen. People who visited Morty this summer suggested hundreds of names, and the staff has whittled down the suggestions to 30. They have to narrow it down to just 10, then will ask the public to vote in the next month or two.
See a time-lapse video of Morty the corpse flower opening.
See how the gardeners cut a hole to see inside Morty after it bloomed.