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A rare flower blooms in all its stinky glory

Erin Grajek

on August 8, 2014 - 9:39 AM, updated August 8, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Morty, the rare corpse flower that looks both beautiful and ominous, is now in bloom at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, and it smells like rotting roadkill.

Think of the prehistoric plant as one that only a botanist could love.

“To me, this is one of the seven wonders of the plant kingdom,” said a beaming Jeff Thompson, the horticulture director.

But he conceded: “It’s got a dark side.”

The 7-foot-8-inch tall plant weighing more than 120 pounds is one of the largest in the world, and it lives up to its name as a corpse flower.

“It’s disgusting. You can’t be in this room very long without getting a little nauseous,” said Erin Grajek, the marketing director, who compared the flower to “an evil queen with a big collar.”

The flower – its actual name is amorphophallus titanium – is native to Sumatra, Indonesia.

The bloom, where a long maroon spadex protrudes from a greenish-chartreuse, gobletlike sheath, appears every six to 10 years, Because so few are in captivity, only a handful are seen blooming in the world in a given year.

That makes the Botanical Gardens’ attraction all the rarer. The bloom typically lasts 24 to 48 hours, and the scent of rotting flesh peaks for about 12 hours. Still, there is plenty to see – and smell – until the plant is eventually removed.

Thompson said a hole will be cut into the lower spadex after the bloom is in decline to reveal the actual parts of the flower that contains both sexes. He compared the female flowers to “the arms of a sea anemone with little bulbs you’d see in Jacques Costeau’s undersea world.”

“When I walked in here, I thought how beautiful this plant was. It also reminded me of my college days when I was lifting garbage behind a garbage truck. That’s what it smells like,” said David Swarts, the Botanical Gardens’ president.

Eventually, the plant will end up as a leaf – the largest in the world, rising to 30 feet. The leaf typically lasts for two weeks before the plant returns to its dormant state.

But before then, the corpse flower and all its unique qualities will be on display at the Botanical Gardens for possibly record-breaking crowds this weekend. Hours will be extended until 11 p.m. today and Saturday, and possibly Sunday due to public interest.

Expect people to escape the odor for the purified air in the Palm Dome, steps away from the plant.

“The flies have increased tremendously over the last couple of days. We’re going to be stinking up Western New York for the next 48 hours,” Grajek said. “It’s gross – but fabulous at the same time.”

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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