Rotting meat. Stinky socks. Not words usually associated with flowering beauty.
But the titan arum, or corpse flower, is no usual plant. It's so unusual -- rare, in fact -- that many individuals never have the opportunity to experience the large plant in its full and malodorous glory.
As Steven Malehorn, manager of the H.F. Thut Greenhouse, eagerly awaits the flowering of Eastern Illinois University's titan arum, affectionately named the Velvet Queen, he's issuing an invitation to residents of east-central Illinois -- and anywhere else, for that matter -- to come join him.
Malehorn estimates that the plant, growing at a rate of four to five inches a day, will flower sometime between June 8 and 12.
"Because of its unpredictable nature, the exact date can't be known in advance," he said. "And when it blooms, it will happen fast -- within hours -- and only last one night!"
The plant flowered once before in June 2008. Based on that event, Malehorn believes the spathe (the sheath enclosing the flower) will begin to open one early afternoon and will be fully open by about 6 p.m.
"The roadkill aroma will begin to develop shortly thereafter and will be strongest from about 8 p.m. until after midnight. The bloom will be open and at its peak from about 6 p.m. until about 5 a.m. the next morning, and the spathe will then slowly close through the day. The aroma will gradually fade away that morning. Then the inflorescence will slowly collapse over the next few days.
"That being said," he added, "it could surprise all of us and start blooming late in the evening and we won't know until the following morning. Therefore, no promises on the blooming schedule."
In order to let others share in the waiting, Malehorn will keep the greenhouse open from 3 to 7 p.m. daily. Hours will be extended to midnight on the day the bloom opens.
In addition, the Velvet Queen is positioned close to the south window so visitors can have an excellent view of it from the sidewalk outside at any time.
Malehorn recalled that the greenhouse received 3,000 visitors during the 2008 flowering.
A page has been created on the EIU Department of Biological Sciences' website to provide daily updates and images of the plant as the flower develops: http://www.eiu.edu/biology/news/titan_arum_2010.php. A map to the greenhouse, located just north of Eastern's Life Sciences Building, is available on the page, as well, and Malehorn has provided a live broadcast at this link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/corpse-flower-bloom.
He is also "tweeting the event" at http://twitter.com/ThutGreenhouse and will tweet to followers as soon as he becomes aware of the flower's opening.
The titan arum, discovered in 1878, grows wild only in the tropical forests of Sumatra. It first flowered in cultivation in London in 1889; since then, more than 100 cultivated flowers have blossomed.
EIU obtained its seed in 2001, and Malehorn has tended to the plant since it was planted. Its "grandparent" seeds were collected in 1993 from the only titan arum found in fruit during a BBC expedition filming "The Private Lives of Plants." The seeds were distributed to U.S. and British conservatories and greenhouses for cultivation.
For more information, please contact Malehorn at firstname.lastname@example.org, 217-581-3126 (Department of Biological Sciences' main office, Monday through Friday), or 217-581-2513 (greenhouse).