Crowds of people poured into Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens over the weekend to see Morty, the corpse flower, in bloom.
The all-time one-day attendance mark of 2,257 was set Friday, only to be shattered Saturday when 2,660 people visited. It was the first time that the Botanical Gardens’ turnstiles had cracked 2,000 in a single day.
“The Botanical Gardens has been around since 1900, and the last two days have set a record in attendance,” said David Swarts, the Botanical Gardens’ president. “It’s been just phenomenal.”
The corpse flower, whose actual name is Amorphophallus titanum, blooms for only 24 to 48 hours, emitting a smell that, during its peak time of about 12 hours, rivals the smell of rotting flesh. After the flower completes its brief life cycle, which includes producing the largest leaf in the world, it returns to a dormant stage for six to 10 years. The plant is rarely seen in captivity.
The crowds swelled Friday night, with the last person leaving at 12:15 a.m. All came to see the 7-foot-, 8-inch tall maroon and chartreuse plant, which weighs more than 120 pounds, ranking it as one of the largest plants in the world.
Attendance on Saturday was consistently heavy throughout the day, when hours were extended to 11 p.m. Sunday’s attendance figure was not immediately available.
“It attracted people from all over the community. I never saw in one day such diversity in ethnicity and age. It was the full gamut,” Swarts said.
Since the Botanical Gardens announced July 27 that Morty was on display and would soon bloom, about 4,000 people had visited leading up to Friday, bringing the total number to nearly 9,000 through Saturday, Swarts said.
“I really believe the level of interest we have seen is because the corpse plant is so unique. With its prehistoric, eerie look, it’s something no one has ever seen here before,” he said.
Many people posed for photographs beside Morty, some holding their noses or sticking out their tongues.
Swarts said he expected visitors to continue coming to see the final stages of Morty’s life cycle.
“I could see it closing up Saturday night at 9 p.m., which was 48 hours after it started to bloom. This is a life cycle, and we could see the smell was mostly gone and now the plant was coming in on itself and beginning to set the next stage of its life cycle before going dormant,” he said.
The weekend was a bonanza for the Botanical Gardens in other ways, too, with new members and volunteers signing up, and record sales in the gift shop.
“This put the Botanical Gardens on the map as a destination. It provided people a chance to see the wonderful treasure we have here, and maybe they’ll come back,” Swarts said.
“Morty has set records for the Botanical Gardens, and engaged Western New York in the fascinating world of plants like never before. Thank you, Morty,” added Erin Grajek, the Botanical Gardens’ marketing director.
By Sunday afternoon, Morty’s stench had faded, but a steady flow of visitors kept coming throughout the day.
The chance to smell the rare plant certainly was the lure for Josh Jackson.
It was the Ransomville resident’s first trip to the Botanical Gardens, and he joked he had to fight the urge to “jump over the rope and stick his head in the middle of the plant” to breathe it all in.
What stopped him was a whiff of something he detected floating in the air, he said.
It was the same faint odor that Robert Smith got when he was near Morty. Smith had heard about the corpse flower before he moved here from Mobile, Ala., three weeks ago for a job at HSBC, but Sunday was his first time seeing one. He was impressed.
“It had a lot of character to it,” said Smith, who was visiting the Botanical Gardens with friend Delores “Dollie” Glaser, who was also taken with the plant’s beauty. Her husband, Owen, the former director of the attraction, died last February.
“It’s pretty. It’s beautiful,” Glaser said of Morty.
But it was Smith who thought he got a whiff of a bad smelling odor that piqued his senses.
“It may have been” the corpse flower, he said.
Actually, situated near the Morty exhibit, is a voodoo lily, formally named Amorphophallus konjac. It’s the corpse flower’s “stinky little cousin,” the sign next to it reads.
The voodoo lily gives off the same bad odor, just in smaller doses, the docent said
Toni Gerace and her 3-year-old granddaughter, Kelsey Mae, were not too upset, either, that the stench was gone. They were happy just to have had the chance to see the plant.
“It was absolutely beautiful, gorgeous, unbelievable,” she said. “I’m glad we got to see it.”
“We’ll come back in another 10 years, right?” she said to her granddaughter.
“Yeah,” said an excited Kelsey Mae.
The smelly hype wasn’t what brought Sylvia Grendisa to the Botanical Gardens to see a corpse flower for the first time. The West Seneca resident is the gardener in the family, said her daughter Rachel Domanski, who moved back from New York City a few months ago.
Grendisa, who started a garden club at her church in 2000, said to see a corpse flower in person is like a “spiritual experience.”
“I was here for the beauty of it,” she said. “The size of the plants I see are 1 foot, or maybe 2 feet high, but to see a plant” as tall as Morty “is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”