Last month, the Mills College Greenhouse gained a rare – and stinky – addition to its collection.
According to Sarah Swope, director of the Mills College Botanic Garden, the corpse flower, also known as Titan Arum, is native to Indonesia and is the largest flowering structure in the world. Named for the rotten stench that its rare bloom gives off, the corpse flower can reach up to ten feet tall, with a single leaf that has been known to reach twice that height.
Just a few months ago, UC Berkeley’s corpse flower, nicknamed “Trudy,” burst into bloom, filling the Berkeley Botanical Gardens with her distinctive smell. Corpse flowers bloom approximately once every four years, and their bloom lasts for only a day. According to the New York Daily News, thousands of people flocked to the gardens in late July to see and smell the rare phenomenon.
The Mills corpse flower is one of Trudy’s offspring and was donated by Holly Forbes, director of UC Berkeley’s Botanical Garden. Forbes and Swope met during their work together on reviving and reintroducing the endangered Tiburon jewelflower to the wild.
“[Forbes] is a really big supporter of these kinds of educational endeavors, and so she very kindly donated a plant to us,” Swope said.
Unlike her mother, this corpse flower does not yet boast a stinky bloom, but is expected to flower sometime in the next two years.
“We just transplanted her and she’s got some roots going, so we’re hoping that she may make a flower next year,” Swope said. “Right now it looks like a pot of soil. [The corpse flower] spends a good portion of its life dormant.”
Mills’ corpse flower is currently in the form of a corm, or a bulb-like root, in the Mills Greenhouse, carefully tended to by Swope and her associates in the biology department.
Senior biology student Andrea Kuftin has been caring for the corpse flower since the day of its arrival several weeks ago. She was the one who first planted the corm in its new home at the Mills Greenhouse.
“At first I didn’t know which way to turn it,” Kuftin said. “There were roots just coming from all over the place!”
The roots of the flower have been growing strong underneath the soil for several years now, but the plant has yet to breach the surface. This kind of growing schedule is typical for corpse flowers.
“Our plant is probably about seven or eight years old and they flower for the first time around ten years old,” Swope said. “So we’re thinking that she might flower fairly soon.”
Many biology students are hoping that this addition to the garden will increase others’ interest in the Mills Garden program, and they look forward to studying this rare plant up close.
“This [flower] would be a good learning opportunity for students,” Kuftin said. “It’s just such an extraordinary plant; there’s nothing like it.”
Trudy and her fellow corpse flowers at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens have all been given women’s names, and in the spirit of Mills, Swope would like to continue the tradition for our new corpse flower.
“We are looking for a name for her,” Swope said. The Mills corpse flower is still unnamed, and Swope is looking to the community to help give a name to the newest member of the Mills family.