Semester of the living corpse flower
The Mills College corpse flower, gifted to the school by UC Berkeley over the summer, has finally burst forth from its long slumber, growing a single 152-centimeter leaf straight up from the ground in the span of only a few months.
Corpse flowers, known for their fleeting and stinky blooms, produce only one leaf at a time. These massive, stalk-like leaves remain open for approximately seven to eight months, storing energy, before dying back to make room for a massive, single flower that lasts only 24 hours. The corpse flower residing in the Mills greenhouse, unofficially dubbed “Persephone,” is expected to follow a similar schedule.
Sarah Swope, assistant professor of biology and director of the Mills Botanic Garden, reports that the leaf reached its peak height over winter break, and that a bloom is expected sometime next fall.
“It’s very rare worldwide when these things flower,” Swope said. “In any given year, in botanic gardens around the world, there’s only half a dozen that flower and we would be one of them.”
Andrea Kuftin, a senior biology student, has been caring for the corpse flower since it first arrived at Mills.
“I’m very excited but our job isn’t done,” Kuftin said. “This is a very special plant with special needs and it’s going to need special care for the rest of its time here.”
At its peak, Persephone had attained an average growth rate of two and a half centimeters per day, and though that rate has slowed considerably, she is still growing larger every day.
“We’re a little worried that she’s growing so quickly that the [root] might grow to be so big that it shatters the pot,” Swope said.
Swope hopes to transplant the flower and give it a more permanent home before it blooms later this year.
It has been an uncertain journey for the staff of the Mills greenhouse, guiding this rare plant from root to bloom with little training, but today Persephone is thriving under Kuftin and Swope’s care.
“It’s kind of like our prized baby,” Kuftin said. “I like to keep a constant eye [on it].”
More updates will come from The Campanil as the corpse flower grows closer to bloom.