Rare, stinky corpse flower about to bloom in Sebastopol nursery

A corpse flower at the California Carnivores nursery in rural Sebastopol is about to bloom and release its notoriously putrid scent.|

An elusive, odoriferous flower 10 years in the making is about to emerge at California Carnivores nursery in Sebastopol, a botanical wonder that has been known elsewhere to draw curious crowds intent on getting a whiff.

The massive bloom of the corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum, named for its stench akin to rotting flesh, takes years to build enough energy to unfurl its frilly purple-and-green leaf around a towering yellow spike that can reach upwards of 10 feet.

The bloom is fleeting, emerging from a mature corm underground that can weigh many dozen pounds. It lasts about three days before it wilts, but in that time its putrid odor lures pollinators that ensure its species’ survival.

“Ten years for three days,” said Damon Collingsworth, co-owner and general manager of the nursery specializing in carnivorous and unusual plants on Old Gravenstein Highway. “It fits with my scene - the weirdest and best plants in the entire world.”

Visitors will be able to take in the corpse flower’s striking form and rancid scent at the nursery once it blooms, which will be announced on social media and through the California Carnivores newsletter. The cost for everyone above 10 years old will be $5, which can go toward a plant purchase.

The Sebastopol bloom follows the burgeoning of a corpse flower at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. The conservatory issued a “stink alert” Thursday that its corpse flower, nicknamed Terra the Titan, was opening up and expected to emit its distinctive, gross odor.

The flower “is very … very potent this morning,” conservatory staff said in a Friday morning Tweet.

The odor is a deception tool used to lure pollinators. Carrion beetles and flies lay eggs on decaying animals so the larvae can eat after hatching. They are tricked by the corpse flower’s stench and the purple raw-meat color inside its ruffled leaf, called the spathe, into thinking the flower is rotting flesh.

The corpse flower isn’t the largest in the world - that’s another stinky Indonesian plant, the Rafflesia arnoldii - but it is the largest flower stalk, or unbranched inflorescence, in the plant kingdom.

Its native habitat is the tropical rainforest of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Eight years ago, Collingsworth inherited the 6-inch-tall plant from a friend, who said it was a 2-year-old seedling. It’s since lived in California Carnivores’ hottest greenhouse - the “horrible hot room” - kept at about 80 degrees to create sultry tropical rainforest conditions.

The underground corm, like a giant bulb, spends most of its time in a dormant state, and about once a year grows a tall leaf that looks like a stem with many leaves. It then dies down and reenters a dormant stage.

Collingsworth was watching closely this year to see if the spike emerging from an underground corm of the tuberous plant would instead produce its first bud.

Sunday night he was almost sure, and by Tuesday the yellow spadix was peaking out from under the leaf, signaling that this time it would flower. He estimates the plant will fully bloom in eight to 10 days.

On Thursday, it was about 3 feet tall, growing from a 40-pound corm underground. Collingsworth said it could grow several inches each day in its current budding state.

Since 1989, California Carnivores has specialized in carnivorous plants. The nursery houses thousands of species, one of the world’s largest collections.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.

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