What Stinks? Why, It’s Woody!

There’s been a change to the editorial calendar so that I can share some breaking news with you. Woody is blooming! Posing with Woody at the Biological Sciences Greenhouse

This morning, The Columbus Dispatch reported that the rare titan arum, fondly known as the “corpse flower,” was about to bloom at The Ohio State University’s Biological Sciences Greenhouse. Late this afternoon, the flower was opening.

Since I’ll be at the Ohio Library Council all day tomorrow, learning about library directorship, and then at the Westerville Public Library in the evening, watching a live stream of Dan Brown speaking from Lincoln Center about his new Inferno, Nails and I saddled up Lucy Long and cantered down High Street after dinner to see the plant, nicknamed “Woody,” for ourselves.

Located at 332 West 12th Avenue, on Ohio State’s main campus, the Biological Sciences Greenhouse is home to an insectary of 130 species of insects and arthropods, a mosquito-rearing facility, and research greenhouse space. Its conservatory includes a collection of more than 1,200 tropical and desert plant species, including this beauty that is native to the Sumatran rainforests.

Arriving on the ground floor of the building where the greenhouse is located, we joined five other people waiting for the elevator. A jolly man sporting a bandana entertained us with tales of waiting hours to see the plant when it bloomed in the past. The elevator door opened, and one of Mr. Selfridge’s Elevator Girls whisked us up to the seventh floor.

A welcoming Cacti and succulents at Ohio State's Biological Sciences Greenhousetrio clad in titan arum tee shirts directed us down the hall, telling us not to miss the display of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.

After making another turn, we entered a long hallway with a crowd-control rope down the middle, with glass-doored rooms on either side. As we passed them, we looked in and saw all sorts of interesting-looking plants. “I’d like to go to school here,” Nails remarked.

Then, I caught a whiff of it. It was strong and stinky, like fermented sauerkraut with a side of rotten fish. Nails didn’t smell a thing.

Turning the corner, we saw Woody. Wow! Standing 72.5 inches tall, this was one big plant. When the tuber was repotted in November 2012, it weighed 49 pounds.

This is the second time that Woody has flowered. The first flowering was on April 23, 2011. Under the right conditions, titan arum can rebloom in two to five years. The flower’s stench attracts special pollinators who love decaying flesh.

This is what it looks like before it’s unfurled…Near the base of titan arum

And this is how it appears on the inside.Inside titan arum

I loved its velvety, frilly purple skirt, also known as a spathe, that surrounds the spadix, or spike. Titan arum's velvety, frilly purple spathe

More tee-shirted staff pointed out an emerging bud of another titan arumEmerging bud of titan arum

“Jesse,” a dormant tuber that blossomed last year…Jesse, a dormant titan arum tuber

two titan arum seedlings, aged six months and one year…Titan arum seedlings

and some of the plant’s seeds, which came from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.Titan arum seeds

Across the hall, we saw an example of the plant’s leaf dormancy, lying on the floor.
It felt like a soft leather glove.An example of titan arum's leaf dormancy

Since Woody will stop blooming tomorrow, the greenhouse has extended its normal business hours to accommodate the plant’s admirers. It will be open until 11 p.m. tonight and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, May 15). If you’d like to say hello to Woody in person, park in Parking Garage K, make two quick lefts as you walk out of the garage, and look for the star-shaped balloons marking the double glass doors in the breezeway between Aronoff Laboratory and the parking garage. For those who’d like to admire Woody from the comfort of home, log on to bioscigreenhouse.osu.edu/titan-arum and click the links on the right of the page to view the plant on two live webcams.

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One Response to What Stinks? Why, It’s Woody!

  1. Jim Bricker says:

    Miami University had an Amorphophallus titanum (corpse flower) bloom during the first week of April. I went to see it a couple of times and periodically kept track of its progress on the Botany Department’s web cam. It was a big event here, with people driving from all over to see it. There seemed to be a constant line of visitors while it was blooming. It was with special interest then, that I read your blog post about your visit to the corpse flower at Ohio State.

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