Corpse flowers in spotlight for unusual leaves, possible bloom

Morticia corpse flower may be flower or leaf
“Morticia” isn’t impressive in this photo from Aug. 6, but this could grow into a flower that is seven feet tall and smells like rotting flesh. Photo courtesy Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

We don’t when it could happen, or even if it will happen, but it looks like another stinky corpse flower might bloom in the next several weeks at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Morticia, the plant that might produce a flower, is on display now.

What might be even more interesting is that Fester, another Amorphophallus titanium, has produced an unusual set of five leaves. Fester is also on display.

Hours are 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily and  10 a.m-9 p.m. Tuesdays through the end of August. The Botanical Gardens is located at 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo.

Admission is $11 for adults, $10 for seniors (ages 62 and older), $9 for students (ages 13 and older with ID), $6 for children ages 3 – 12  and free for Botanical Gardens members and children 2 and under.

Will Morticia be a flower or leaf?

When the first growth appears, it can be hard to predict if the plant will become a leaf or flower, according to the Botanical Gardens. The differences between how Morticia and Fester are growing indicate that Morticia may send up a flower.

Fester showed signs of growth about five weeks ago, which resulted in leaves rather than a flower.

Morticia showed signs of growth about three weeks ago and is growing at a much slower rate. Because Morticia’s coloring and growth shape is different, the horticulture team at the Botanical Gardens believes it will be a flower.

It is hard to predict when and if Morticia would be in full bloom. If Morticia is a flower, their best estimate is that Morticia would be in full bloom within five to seven weeks.

five leaf structures on corpse flower
What you have never seen before is five leaf structures growing at the same time from one corm (bulb) of a corpse flower. Fester produced five all at once. Photo courtesy Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

Five leaf structures is unusual

Corpse flowers usually get one leaf structure at a time, but Fester has produced five all at once.

“Our horticulture staff believes that something may have damaged the original growth, so Fester had to send up five leaf structures to ‘exert’ the energy within the corm,” said Erin Grajek, vice president of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. (The corm is like a bulb.)

The leaf structures can grow up to 20 feet tall and 16 feet across. 

Leaf structures will last until the corm has gathered energy, which can take many months or even more than a year. The leaf structure then dies off and it will go dormant for a few months. This process repeats until it has enough stored energy for a bloom.

In between blooming, the plants go through a cycle of dormancy and create a large, compound tree-like leaf. Over time, the old leaf dies and a new one grows in its place. The leaf structures collect energy so the plant can bloom again in the future. The leaf structure has no offensive smell. 

Background on Buffalo’s corpse flowers

In early July 2014, the Botanical Gardens acquired three Amorphophallus titanum corms: Morty, Fester and Morticia. Since then, Morty has produced one leaf structure and two flowers. Fester has produced one leaf and one flower and Morticia has produced one leaf. See more articles and videos about the corpse flowers here.

Amorphophallus titanium, commonly known as corpse flowers, are native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. They are famous for the horrible scent they give off while in bloom– it smells like rotting flesh. Corpse flowers typically bloom every 6-10 years, making it a rare sight to see and smell. When the plant blooms, the flower and stench will only last 36-48 hours.

Updates will be available on the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens Facebook page, their Twitter and Instagram accounts @buffalogardens, and through Morty’s Twitter account @Mortystinks. Like and follow to get regular updates. Use #corpseflower and @buffalogardens when posting.

4 Comments on “Corpse flowers in spotlight for unusual leaves, possible bloom

  1. Had a visitor from Rochester/Syracuse during our open gardens on Friday who showed me pictures of a plant that looks like amorphophallus titanium/corpse flower growing in her garden, for several yrs now. It was a little more on the pink side but she said it smelled like a dead animal for a few days and attracted flies. Is there a variety that will survive in our zone 6A? I wish I had gotten her name as I am intrigued by this unique plant growing out in her garden and not in a green house. Any one know of this plant in zone 6A? She said she got it from a friend and it was grown out side by her also.

  2. Barb, you can read about other varieties of amorphophallus that local gardeners have grown here. Some say they leave the plant outside all winter. You might want to choose a sheltered spot to increase the likelihood that it will survive. Make sure you read the follow-up at the end of the story and the comments, too. Fran Evans has sold amorphophallus corms at a farmer’s market; I don’t know if he still does.

  3. I planted one variety of amorphallus in my garden years ago. There are now 3 of them in different areas. The first made babies. They all happily survive in ground through our winters. The flower is so beautiful and unique, I do not mind the influex of flies attracted to them – this lasts only 2-3 days, then the smell fades away.

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