I have never seen a Corpse Flower. For those that are unfamiliar, this plant is a Southeast Asian flower known for its rarity, size, and formidable scent. Usually, these flowers only bloom once every seven to 10 years and maintain an aroma comparable to rotting meat, which attracts the flower’s main pollinator, carrion beetles. Adding to its rarity, the flower bloom lasts a brief 48 hours, which makes seeing the Corpse Flower more unique but all the more challenging. After first becoming aware of the Corpse Flower when the 101 inch “Big Bucky” flower bloomed at the University of Wisconsin in 2001, I knew I wanted to experience such a rare event first hand when the next opportunity surfaced. Unfortunately, I learned of the last bloom in 2011 a few days too late, which left experiencing the Corpse Flower on my to-do list and left me uncertain as to when the opportunity would present itself again.
As luck would have it, a few days ago Rachael made me aware a different Corpse Flower was blooming at the UW’s D.C. Smith Greenhouse. Although I would have liked to have had the experience earlier, the fact that a Corpse Flower was blooming during my “I have never...” year was a welcomed occurrence. In turn, I moved a few events around on my schedule to ensure I could experience the Corpse Flower during the current bloom. With good fortune on my side, the Corpse Flower happened to reach full bloom late last night, which meant I would be able to catch the peak of the bloom before work this morning. The timing of the event was perfect, and I was ready to experience the D.C. Smith Greenhouse and its most recent Corpse Flower bloom for the first time.
|D.C. Smith Greenhouse|
To ensure I had time to make the visit to the UW campus and get to work on time, I woke earlier this morning. As I prepared for the day excitement over seeing the Corpse Flower built. I knew the experience would be unlike any I have had before, and the rarity of its occurrence appealed to me in a big way. After working through my morning routine, I hopped in my car and drove to the D.C. Smith Greenhouse in anticipation of the forthcoming experience. Upon reaching the greenhouse, I paused briefly to take in the beauty of the glass structure nestled between the stone and brick of the surrounding buildings. The relatively early hour minimized traffic in and around the building, which created a certain sense of peace as the building glittered in beams of light parting the overcast skies.
Pushing my feet back into motion, I crossed the street and climbed the stairs toward the greenhouse stairs. I took notice of small paper signs hung on the windows made mention of the Corpse Flower and the extended greenhouse hours as I passed through the doors, which assured me in my pursuit of finding the flower. Once in the greenhouse I was immediately struck by the beauty of the space around me. The glass of the building created a subtle glow that cascaded over the plants scattered across the floor, racks, and walls in the building. The silence and serenity of the space were apparent as I walked deeper into the building. After a few moments, I came to a plaque detailing the greenhouse’s origin on a pillar just before an open room. I stopped to read the plaque before I turned to face the open doorway. In the space beyond the opening a long rectangular room opened to an array of plants and a small coy pond. Taking a few steps forward, I dodged leaves hanging from plants over my head before my eyes locked on the unmistakable profile of the Corpse Flower.
Nearest the Corpse Flower was a billboard explaining the unique nature of the plant and its rare growth process. At the base of the flower’s large pot sat a sign announcing the plant’s name as “Dennis” which made a smile cross my face. As I came closer to the plant itself I absorbed the scope of its form. At nearly five feet tall, the flower stood out against everything else in the space. I took a few steps toward the plant as I took in the sight of its finer details. The conical form at the center of the plant drove high into the air as the massive purple petals hung outward like an elaborate collar strewn loosely about a neck. In its entirety the flower looked otherworldly, like it had been born into an oversized world somewhere unknown to humankind. In awe of the sight before me, I approached the flower slowly, making sure to retain the subtle aspects of the rare bloom. After a few moments of looking over the plant, I realized the absence of any staggering, obvious stench. Based on everything I had read and learned about the plant in the past, I expected to be consumed by the smell of death, but it simply wasn’t present. Confused, I leaned closer to the plant and placed my face near the interior of the petal. Proceeding, I took a big sniff over the top of the flower in an effort to smell any aroma, and then the flower made its scent known. Immediately, a smell somewhere between rotting meat and terrible breath overwhelmed my senses and sent me reeling backwards. In an instinctual response, I quickly wiped my nose on the back of my hand as I leaned back and away from the smell. In a split second, I learned how the Corpse Flower got its name.
With more visitors finally streaming into the greenhouse, I spent several more minutes observing the Corpse Flower before heading back to my car. In the final moments before the rare bloom I thought about its brief, diminishing time in such a state of beauty. I felt lucky to be in the presence of the flower and to experience its contrast in sensory responses. Although it took me awhile to finally experience the Corpse Flower, something felt right about seeing that flower on that quiet morning during my “I have never...” year. The timing was right, the visit was personal, and the experience lived up to my expectations. Needless to say, the pieces fell into place for this experience, and now I can cross an event off of my “I have never...” list that has been there for quite some time. I’ve finally seen a Corpse Flower, and in my book, that’s pretty damn cool.